Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Every session of a Legislative Assembly is important; but the Budget session is importantly important. Orissa Assembly commenced this session on the 3rd Feb. 2006. People of Orissa are eager to see that the budget be discussed and we know, discussion on a budget proceeds on the premise of accountability of the Government.
In a session like this, the Opposition is supposed to be aggressive. Its stance is supposed to be stern. We accept it as a necessity to make the Government accountable.
But the world is now laughing at us as a rash word from the Speaker has spread that the Assembly’s security personnel would be deputed for special judo training to keep under control the Opposition members. I quote below from CNN-IBN Live:
[In order to cope with situations like these, the Assembly’s security personnel are now being given special judo training. “The idea is not to confront the MLAs. The training will help them keep violent MLAs under control”, said Mohanty.]
So, security personnel trained in Judo will be used to “control” the Opposition MLAs!
What sort of a House it is going to be? Are you expecting an Opposition to work under threats of assault?
What sort of a House it is going to be? Do you want the Opposition members to function with a constant threat to their physical security?
It is true, we had to witness many such scenes in the House which, one may wish, should never have happened. Opposition members piled up coins on the reporters’ table in the Assembly Hall to comply with the ruling of the Speaker imposing cash penalty on them. The coin piles remained there in that condition till finally accepted by the Speaker. Had the Speaker accepted them on the first day at the first instance, it would have helped the House to proceed with its normal business that was so valuable to the State. But, the delay only helped feeding gullible minds with wrong messages on the Opposition. A sophomoric media that have almost replaced serious observation misled public mind to believe in the official version that the Opposition is not allowing the Assembly to proceed. Such a climate, as we saw later, encouraged the Speaker to threaten a member of the Opposition with physical assault, which, he disowned subsequently to impress upon the public that he had only said that the people will beat up the Opposition members for the stonewall created with the coins.
The treasury bench was justifying non-acceptance of the coins on two grounds: firstly the Hall of the Assembly was not the receipt counter and secondly, under a 1906 Act, carrying coin worth more than ten rupees was an offence and therefore the members of Congress who brought coins claimed to be to the tune of Rs.60.000/- committed a crime necessitating rejection.
Attempts of the treasury bench to take shelter under such an archaic law were really amusing. The Supreme Court of India has made a Law that any Law not in use shall have no legal impact. The 1906 Law, if it is yet not repelled, has, therefore, no legal impact. Now the other ground. The penalty (use of the word jorimana in course of discussion makes the meaning of the word specific) was imposed during debates in presence of all the members present in the House on the basis of a motion moved by the Government Chief Whip in the Assembly Hall and all the members, present in the Hall, even later, had heard the Speaker rejecting requests for reconsideration and were made to know that the Speaker had stuck to his decision and the penalized members were bound to pay the penalty. This was therefore not a blunder on part of the penalized members to make the payment of the penalty money in the Hall itself in presence of all the members.
The penalized members are political leaders and political leaders take a political stand. To stand in line before a counter clerk to pay a penalty in the Assembly premises would never have any compatibility with any political stand. It was therefore in fitness of facts to make the payment in a style that only a political stand could entail. Any stand other than that they took could have humiliated the proud people of Orissa who have proven their political courage by rejecting the ruling combine in order to elect them to the Assembly. They have been punished as their extra-active participation, aimed basically at dragging the Government out of its bureaucratic cocoon, caused damages to three of the mike sets in the process. It was, on this premise, not incorrect on part of the Congress members to insist upon acceptance of the payment in the Hall of the House in presence of all other members. Had this psycho-political reality been duly honored, valuable Assembly time would not have been lost in the way it happened.
However, as we now watch, both the justifications for non-acceptance of the coins could not click as the Speaker ultimately accepted the money. Would it be wrong to say, by not accepting the coins from the beginning, rooms were created for confrontation and chaos? If so, who is responsible? The Government or the Opposition?
It was sad that the finer aspect of magnanimity in parliamentary rivalry could not be properly read in the ruling circle of Orissa. If magnanimity in rivalry is a matter to be seen in its best form in any place then that place must be the House of the representatives of the people. If there, in place of magnanimity, a mean atmosphere of confrontation reigns, whom to blame? The treasury bench in who people have reposed responsibility to manage their rampart of democracy or the Opposition?
Had magnanimity not suffered a set-back, legislative activism would not have landed in such a situation. Penalized members of the Congress were to face further castigations for having brought the money in coins of small denomination. But I think the Congress did not do any wrong by paying the penalty in small coins. Three MLAs were subjected to the penalty while representing their electorate in the Assembly. Therefore the people of their respective constituencies contributed the money, the Congress claimed. If they contributed in small coins, there was nothing to be surprised. In fact, the common people of Orissa have been so pauperized in this ‘Mining Raj’ that they have no ability to donate notes of any denomination for political or public purpose. Hence there was no wrong on part of the Congress MLAs to accept solidarity help from their respective supporters in coins, howsoever small might they be in denomination and naturally therefore there was nothing surprising in their desire to deposit the same in compliance of the ruling in the Hall of the Assembly.
Was there any unusualness? Was there any disrespect for the House? No. Hence why the same was not taken into possession and to the accounts immediately? If the House could proceed next day despite presence of the coin pile on the central table in the Hall, why the same stance could not be taken at the beginning so that valuable debates could have continued?
Who can belittle the ghastly impact of Kalinga Nagar massacre? Can one expect the Opposition to remain a silent spectator? What was then the justification in putting Opposition demands for instant debate over the issue beyond the boundary for days? The Chief Minister told the House that the Government is “ready for an immediate and a major discussion on the subject” by suspending the question hour. But why this on 6th February 2006? Had the Government agreed to accept the Opposition demand earlier, the House would never have lost so much valuable time and tranquility. Can one find any fault with the Opposition for having made the House addressed to the ugliest oppression of the era and to its after effect? True, the Opposition took a stern stance in this instance. But could otherwise the recalcitrant Government have agreed to give priority to Kalinga Nagar massacre?
As we watched the Assembly, on 6th Feb.06, after Naveen Patnaik agreed to the Opposition’s continuous demand for discussion on Kalinga Nagar, the Government Chief Whip moved a motion seeking suspension of Rule 19 Sub-Clause 2 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the House for the time-being for the purpose of discussion of the motion relating the Kalinga Nagar incident and it was accepted. The discussion continued for four days without any reply from the CM. Holidays intervened. When the House resumed it should have started from where the discussion had stopped as this was ordained by the motion adopted. This means, the day should have begun from the CM’s awaited reply. But that did not happen. On the other hand, police killed Congress Chairman of Rairakhol Panchayat Samiti, by accident or by design, at Village Bhatra under Charmal Police Station on 15 Feb.06 whipping up an unprecedented public protest at Rairakhol. The day this disturbing news hit headlines, on 17 Feb.06, armed rubbers went unhindered after looting the entire cash from the strong-room of public sector Panjab National Bank at Bapuji nagar, Bhubaneswar at 10 A.M. Were these events not enough for the Opposition to demand instant discussion? Who to blame if voices were raised to register agony over Government’s attempts to evade?
Now the Opposition is boycotting the CM. Is the Opposition doing any wrong?
The way the news has spread that Assembly security staff shall be trained in Judo to keep violent members under control is not conducive to democracy.
We have watched how the Deputy Leader of Opposition placed the issue of Kalinga Nagar massacre on records. We have watched what the Leader of Opposition said. What other members too. We have watched the reply of the CM. Has the CM honestly answered the questions raised by the Opposition? No. He has not given the information sought for. What then the Opposition should do? Can we blame the Opposition if it adopts any tactics within its command to make the Government accountable?
I think, the Speaker has a responsible role to play. Instead of trying to control extra-active members by using Judo trained security staff, he should peruse the proceedings of the House. He should note the information sought for by the Opposition. He should ask the CM to give that information to the Opposition so that it is proved that the Government is answerable to the House and the discussion on Kalinga Nagar massacre makes people know what really has happened.
In best interest of democracy, the Kalinga Nagar issue should be restored to the proceedings. The way the CM caused interruptions when the Deputy leader of Opposition was in the concluding phase of his deliberation was never expected of the Leader of the House. Who then really violates the rampart of democracy in Orissa? The Treasury bench or the Opposition?
“A person like the Chief Minister is disturbing me. What is this?”
Should we have a debate concluded with this question from its initiator in the House?
Instead of training the security staff in Judo, the Speaker should better train his attention to this pertinent question.