Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

To the preening prince of Bijudom, success of the BJD candidates in Rajyasabha election in Orissa is a matter of pride. But it is an instance of democratic decadence.

The super-supremo of the ruling party Pyari Mohan Mohapatra’s assertion much ahead of filing of nomination papers that 111 of 147 MLAs would certainly cast their votes to help BJD bag the three seats, studied vis-à-vis his post election assertion that, had a member from the Opposition belonging to the third candidate’s caste not betrayed at the last moment, the figure of 111 could certainly have been maintained, makes it unambiguously clear that ruling party had fixed the election much before filing the nominations.

Mohapatra sans qualms has given the calculation. According to him, there has been no dislocation in the votes in their pocket that include the entire103 votes belonging to BJD, four votes of NCP, one vote of CPI and two votes of independent candidates. These constitute 110 votes. Had the other one vote they were sure of getting not betrayed, there could never have been any deviation in reaching the 111 votes target, he claims.

The NCP and CPI votes being party guided, their support to BJD do not merit attention, even though their dilly-dally in declaring their support much after BJD’s declaration that they were in its pocket, has put them under such a cloud that, were they been able to understand how dark was its lining, they should have felt ashamed. The two independent MLAs have long since been trying to ingratiate themselves to power for reasons best known to themselves and there is no surprise in their vote going to BJD pocket.

But what about the horse whose support the BJD was sure of, even before filing of the nomination papers and whose name it has not yet disclosed? In matters like the election to Rajyasabha any secret pact with any member of the Assembly beyond officially known alliance breaths all the obnoxious shenanigans that push democracy to deepened decadence. It is a matter of solace that the secret horse has jumped back to where it belongs.

Admittedly there were a few confused ones in the Rajyasabha voters’ list who did not know how to vote, as nullification of ballot papers have shown. But if one looks at the Speaker and the deputy Speaker of the Assembly priding over their party loyalty, one wonders as to whither has gone our democracy.

No law puts a specific ban on casting of vote by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker of an Assembly in the Rajyasabha poll. But democratic prudence does not permit it. Any member of the Assembly belonging or not belonging to a political party can become a Speaker/Deputy Speaker on being elected by the members of the House. But once elected to the august office, neither of them is permitted to vote on any matter involving the Assembly except casting vote to resolve a deadlock. Democratic prudence needs both of them to liberate themselves from their party cocoons and to stay beyond party-prejudice till at least end of their tenure.

But, as we marked, both of them were included in the list of voters that Pyari Mohan Mahapatra, though a candidate for the Rajyasabha seat, had declared and both of them attended the orientation meeting of BJD MLAs before the voting day, where writ of the same candidate was running high and in fact, they had to cast their respective votes for the candidates of BJD. They had to work under the secret whip of the party as is evidenced by the fact that the Speaker Pradip Kumar Amat had to vote for the candidate Pyari Mohan Mohapatra whereas the Deputy Speaker Lal Bihari Himirika had to vote for Sashi Bhusan Behera, the second candidate.

Any ordinary member of the Assembly after being elected Speaker or Deputy Speaker holds highest apolitical office of the state and gets sumptuously paid to discharge the duties of his office. His office becomes the office that runs the Assembly to which the council of ministers stays answerable. Hence, in democracy, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are officers that are different from the Ministers in their respective roles in democracy. Ministers stay political despite receiving salary from the state, as their role in a democracy is necessarily political, they being part of a government run by a political party. So there is no illegality in them casting votes in election to Rajyasabha. But the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are distinctly different. Though elected as party candidates, where they contest as such, they are paid to act apolitical after their respective elections.
Under Article 189 of the Constitution of India, the “Speaker shall not vote in the first instance, but shall have and exercise a casting vote in case of equality of votes”. The spirit of the Constitution in stipulating that the “Speaker shall not vote in the first instance” is based on necessity of the Speaker to act impartial or apolitical. This spirit of the constitution has been killed by the Speaker as he has acted political in casting vote for a political party candidate under secret whip of the ruling political party.

On the other hand, the Speaker neither belongs to the Government nor he heads the Government. But he undoubtedly heads the office of the Assembly for which he gets salaries from the exchequer that the Government controls and administers. So his office is fit to be construed as a government office. This aspect has not attracted any attention as yet. But the instant case craves for attention to this aspect. Judiciary should look into this and decide the official status of the speaker as to whether or not he holds a government office. In case, it is judicially determined that the Speaker holds a Government Office, that too apolitical, his casting of vote in the Rajyasbha election in respect of a political contestant must be declared illegal and for use of a Government office-holder for capturing political position through enforced voting should also be declared illegal. This is specifically essential in view of the fact that the Constitution that has allowed every government officers of the country to cast his/her vote in general elections, has not allowed any government officer to vote for Rajyasabha , restricting the voting only to members of the Assembly that are not Government office holders, save the ministers distinguished supra.

The Rajyasabha election on June 17 in Orissa is indicative of democratic decadence. Lovers of democracy need to take note of it and try to save democracy from the hands that play havoc upon it.

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