A veteran parliamentarian speaks his mind

PARLIAMENT FOR THE PEOPLE: Speeches by Era Sezhiyan; Institute of Social Sciences, 8 Nelson Mandela Road, New Delhi 110070, Rs. 1450   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai_R.Gopalaratna

This collection of speeches by an eminent parliamentarian deserves notice not just because Parliament hits the headlines frequently these days, although mostly for wrong reasons. There are at least two other reasons why it should interest keen observers of the polity and politics of argumentative Indians.

The volume covers a 22-year period that witnessed major political transformations. Sezhiyan entered Parliament when the government was headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, a strong defender of the dignity of the institution. He served as an effective parliamentarian during the Prime Ministership of Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, and Morarji Desai. He stepped into Parliament House in the year of the Sino-Indian conflict and made his exit just months before Indira Gandhi's assassination. And he was witness to the formation of the first non-Congress government in New Delhi and its ignominious, mid-term fall as well. The long years he spent in Parliament and the rich experience he gained make Sezhiyan, who is in his late 80s, eminently qualified to do what he has attempted: to produce a ‘biography' of sorts of the bicameral Parliament in the form of his recorded role as a remarkably articulate and rule-abiding member. He made his presence felt in both the Lok Sabha (1962-77) and the Rajya Sabha (1978-84), as a representative of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam and the Janata Party respectively.


Browsing through the pages, one is struck by the difference Sezhian and C.N. Annadurai (founder of the DMK who was a Rajya Sabha member during 1962-67) had made to parliamentary discourse in the early 1960s. Annadurai (‘Anna' as he was popularly known), for example, was making out a strong case for renaming the State of Madras as ‘Tamil Nadu'.

Confronted by a heckler with the question “What will you gain by this?”, he shot back: “What did you gain by naming the House of the People as ‘Lok Sabha' and the House of States as ‘Rajya Sabha?'” For his part, Sezhiyan frequently found himself engaged in the south-north sparring — happily, no more than a hazy memory now, at least in Parliament.

In May 1963, during a debate on what was then called the ‘anti-secession' Bill — seen politically as a measure directed against the DMK which had ‘independent Dravida Nadu' as its ideological plank — he quoted the U.S. Supreme Court as observing that “compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard,” and added, “Delhi is known to be the graveyard of many empires. Let not … one more graveyard be dug here by this measure.” That provoked a Congress member to remark: “Many empires in the South have also gone to the grave,” and to this Sezhiyan retorted: “Any empire not representing the people is bound to go that way.”

For federalism

In those distant days, Sezhiyan, along with Anna, championed the cause of federalism. Speaking on the anti-secession Bill, the DMK founder ridiculed the constitution of a National Integration Committee to keep the country undivided, by saying that Dr. C.P. Ramaswamy Ayyar, who headed the panel, was “a sturdy champion of India's sovereignty and integrity, so sturdy indeed that as Diwan of Travancore he announced the independence of Travancore and proclaimed a pact with Pakistan(!)”

In the other House, Sezhiyan argued that “when they talk of integration, they forget one fundamental thing. India is a vast sub-continent with different cultures, histories, races, languages and nationalities ... You cannot undo what history has done ... with a stroke of pen.”

Sezhiyan's speeches in this collection cover diverse subjects and they include: the gold bond scheme (1965); the controversial ‘time capsule' (disinterred in 1977, ahead of time, by 4999 years and 250 days!); and the devaluation of the rupee (1966).

These days the word ‘politician' has become a pejorative. Here is Sezhiyan who proclaimed in Parliament that he was one of those who believed in the “dignity of politics” and that he was “proud to be a politician” — and that was in 1976 while participating in a debate on the imposition of President's rule in Tamil Nadu. Again, in 1984, bidding farewell to Parliament, he said he strongly believed that politics involved making “adjustments in society so that maximum benefit reaches the maximum number of people.”

The country and its Parliament can certainly do with a lot more “politicians” of such a perspective, if a pro-people outlook really governs their public life.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 9:03:04 PM |

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