SPEAKER CORNERED: ASSEMBLY HURTLES TO A COMPROMISE

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

With Navin Patnaik as leader of the House, Orissa Assembly has been subjected to many a hurry-scurry, the latest being the first week of the current session running sans presiding wisdom of the incumbent Speaker.

Speaker Maheswar Mohanty was hurt by a notice of no-confidence from the Opposition as he is facing prosecution for having allegedly contravened the Code of Conduct in the general elections for Panchayats. The opposition had announced that it would not allow him to preside over the Assembly as he has been too soiled to be accepted as neutral.

The crux of the issue has been discussed in these pages earlier.

Pending the no-confidence notice Mohanty stayed away from the podium after the State Governor presented his ceremonial address on commencement of the budget session on March 21, 2007. Deputy Speaker Prahllad Dora, since then, was conducting the house.

Mohanty had declared that he would face the no-confidence motion if the house so desires and shall abide by its decision even though there was no chance of approval of the resolution to move the motion against him.

Mohanty belongs to BJD of the ruling coalition and has been in the center of the storm for having allegedly misused his official vehicle for BJD in election campaign for Panchayats.

BJD and its partner being in majority, the resolution had no chance to be adopted in the house; because these politicians pay more importance to their parties than to democracy.

The opposition also knew that their resolution would collapse. The only purpose of their notice was, therefore, to keep on Assembly records the allegations against the Speaker vis-à-vis his defense, so that the people could have a better assessment of democracy in action.

When the people of the State were eagerly watching the developments, on March 24 the Parliamentary affairs minister Raghunath Mohanty made an appeal to the Opposition to treat the issue with parliamentary magnanimity and to the relief of the Treasury bench, the Opposition obliged. “We do no more press on the resolution to move the motion of no-confidence against the Speaker as he has proved his commitment to democracy by staying away from his podium, the chief whip of Opposition Satya Bhusan Sahu told the house.

Had it been a case of Parliamentary magnanimity, it would have been better. But it is allegedly a compromise between the two parties. And on what term the compromise has been coined? Reports say, it is an assurance from the Chief Minister to replace Mohanty with some one else after the end of the current session. Sources from BJD confide that Mohanty would be replaced with Damodar Raut, a sitting MLA, unceremoniously dropped earlier from the cabinet but to the boss still unashamedly obedient.

Let us not put credence on facts not on records. Whether or not Mohanty would step down and whether or not Raut would come is not the issue.

At the moment one thing is clear that the Opposition has withdrawn the notice of no-confidence against the incumbent Speaker.

But the incumbent Speaker has not withdrawn the severe allegation he had raised against the State Election Commissioner (SEC) Sanjiv Hota in this context. The allegation of violation of the Election Code raised against him was a conspiracy cooked up by Hota, bearing him as he was a grudge for the enquiry he had pressed against a notorious land-scam, with which the SEC in his former avatar was involved, the Speaker had said. If Mohanty does not withdraw this allegation publicly, how can one say that by conspiratorially tarnishing the image of the Speaker, the SEC has not deliberately soiled his privileges? How can it but be construed as contempt against the house?

So the compromise, the house has hurtled to, cannot obliterate the issue of its privileges. If MLAs do not look at this, it would be ignoring the worst possible denigration of the rampart of democracy by bureaucracy; and it would further engrave in the mind of the people that their representatives in the house may make any compromise if thereby they are safe in their own cocoons.

Let us watch, what happens.

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