Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The Speaker’s action in recognising Mr. Prasanna Kumar Acharya as the new leader of the Lok Sabha wing of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is an issue that goes beyond the BJD.

Democracy depends basically on collective wisdom of the citizenry expressed through political parties. To imagine of democracy without a political party is as bizarre as a parliamentary wing being considered independent of the party it represents.

On the other hand, dissidence in a political party is not undemocratic There is admittedly rampant dissidence in BJD. So, formation of a group in the parliamentary wing of BJD under the leadership of Mr. Acharya is not surprising.

What bothers one is the manner in which he has been recognised by the Speaker.

It is argued that the Speaker is the sole authority to recognise the leader of the parliamentary wing of a political party in the House. That is not contested. The question is: how could he come to know that BJD has changed its leader in Lok Sabha? Did the BJD inform him that Acharya was elected the new leader of its parliamentary wing requiring an amendment in his previous order of recognition? No. Did Arjun Charan Sethy, recognised earlier as the leader of BJD inform the Speaker of any such change? No. Can any member or any numbers of members of parliament belonging to a political party cause a change in the legislative leadership of that party behind the back of the organisation and can this be acceptable within the framework of democracy? No.

When there is no fissure in a political party, there is no problem. But, once there is one discernible, can a rebel group be accepted as representing the original party?

The Speaker should have applied his mind to this.

One who puts premium on democracy must expect that the Speaker, in such cases, would, at the first instance, obtain from the Election Commission the name and address of the relevant office-bearer of the political party in question and ascertain from that source as to whether that party wants a change in the leadership of its parliamentary wing. He should have recognised Acharya only on the basis of an affirmative reply from BJD. That would have been in conformity with the tenets of democracy. And that would have been justified.

Number of traitors in a parliamentary wing of a political party may multiply but that cannot diminish the authority of the party they represent. Democracy rests on the party system and therefore, authority of political parties over their members of parliament should remain ever absolute. Any member of parliament can revolt against his party leader within his party and can cause a change in its hierarchy with majority support and with the authority of that reorganised set-up can also effect a change of leadership in its parliamentary wing. But before that any attempt by any member of parliament to cause a change in his or her party’s parliamentary wing must be termed as unauthorised and undemocratic.

The fissure in the parliamentary wing of BJD had given the Speaker a chance to clear as to whether a group of MPs can claim a privilege to be considered independent of the party they represent; but it seems, it has not happened.

What has happened, hence, is wrong

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