Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Wednesday refused to be drawn into commenting on the fate of Public Accounts Committee chairman Jaswant Singh, if the Bharatiya Janata Party wants to withdraw his nomination for the post in the wake of his expulsion from the party.

Responding to the question at a media interaction organised by the Indian Women’s Press Corps, Ms. Kumar said: “The rule says the chairman can be removed if, for any reason, he is unable to act.”

While she disclosed that the BJP had not yet informed the Lok Sabha Secretariat about Mr. Singh’s expulsion, the Speaker side-stepped further prodding, pointing out that it would be premature on her part to comment.

As to whether the Speaker should resign from his or her party after being elected presiding officer of the Lok Sabha, Ms. Kumar pointed out that there is no such constitutional requirement. “What actually is needed of the Speaker is complete neutrality.”

Asked whether she thought her predecessor Somnath Chatterjee had been right in refusing to resign from the post of Speaker as per the wishes of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), she said: “He did what he believed. He was a man of conviction. No Speaker, except Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, I am told, resigned.”

On the fate of the Women’s Reservation Bill, Ms. Kumar pointed out that it would depend on how various parties arrived at a consensus. When it was pointed out that she did not sound very hopeful, she said that it was because the Bill had such a chequered past.

However, she did not see herself don the role of a facilitator to build a consensus. “I don’t think any Speaker in the past has played such a role in the case of any Bill. There have been very definite stands taken on the Bill. How do I reconcile these differences without diluting the neutrality of the Speaker’s office?”

Drawn into speaking about the caste system, Ms. Kumar lamented this “major affliction of our society” remained, despite the spread of education. “Laws are important, but much depends on their implementation and that, in turn, is dependent on mindset.”

And, to a specific question on how long the quota policy would continue, she pondered aloud why no one ever asked how long the caste system would go on.

About the tasks she had set for herself, Ms. Kumar said she would like to see Parliament sit for 100 days annually and ensure that the question hour was not disrupted. “Question hour is sacrosanct, and it is the only time when the government of the day can be held accountable. It is fundamental to parliamentary democracy.”

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