On a day when a discussion on India’s Constitution and a tribute to its framer B.R. Ambedkar in the Lok Sabha became a tug of war between the treasury benches and the Congress, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief whip Tathagat Satpathy stood out as the one speaker who stressed the point that the Constitution was above all things, a gift that the people of India gave themselves.
“The 16 bloodless elections that we have seen since Independence have proven that the people of our country are saner and wiser than us who claim to represent them,” he said.
Taking on the NDA government, Mr. Satpathy said, “The Home Minister in his speech gave the impression that his government is the one that put a broom in our hands. I come from Odisha, where to entice Lord Jagannath out of his temple, the mightiest King Gajapathi of Odisha has to sweep the courtyard of the Jagannath Temple. It is an old tradition, that emphasises not just cleanliness, but that the ruler must, most of all, be humble to bend before the people. This was not Hinduism but a universal value.”
He took on Mr. Singh on his assertion that secularism was the most misinterpreted word in India. “The word secularism is very well defined in the dictionary. We are a pluralistic country, if that word suits some people, they may use it. Above all, let us not have a myopic view of the word so that when it is translated into Hindi, its meaning becomes perverted, that is not my problem, since I’m not a Hindi speaker,” he said in direct reference to Mr. Singh seeking a different interpretation of secularism.
In an oblique reference to a kind of Hindi-dominated majoritarianism being alleged to be practised by the BJP, Mr. Satpathy said that just because a sizeable number of people think a certain way, it could not be imposed on everyone. “As the DMK used to say on the language debate, if Hindi is to be the national language of India just because a majority speaks it, then the crow should be our national bird, since it is most populous,” he said amid table thumping by members.
Referring to the 1861 Police Act that still was in force, Mr. Satpathy said that it encapsulated the journey that the rulers of the country were yet to take. “We have been a sovereign country for the last 60 years but never has this House decided to discuss this Act, that was devised by a colonial power to ensure strict control over its subjects. Let us give more freedom to our people, we must learn to trust our people,” he said.
‘Still a long way to go’
“Let us all admit that we are very long way from giving justice to every Indian, it is not yet time for us to be smug, and claim that we are a world power, we are nowhere near that. We are a great country but until we are able to reach individuals we won’t be a world power,” he said.