TAMIL NADU

Legitimising the Shiv Sena

IN FORSAKING ITS own claim to the office of Lok Sabha Speaker, lying vacant since the death of G.M.C. Balayogi last March, the BJP has obviously been dictated by coalition imperatives. But the fact that a Shiv Sena nominee, Manohar Joshi, has been picked for the prestigious office is at once a cruel irony and, in a way, a challenge to the very institution of Parliament and all the noble democratic ideals it embodies. First for the irony part. The primary avowed reason for the Telugu Desam Party not reclaiming the post — despite repeated feelers from the BJP leadership in Government — is Chandrababu Naidu's displeasure, if not resentment, with the Centre over its response to the Gujarat carnage, more specifically its refusal to move against the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. And now the baton of Speakership has been passed on to the nominee of a party that backs Mr. Modi and his revengeful anti-minority offensive to the hilt; not surprising, though, given the Shiv Sena's shared ideological plank with the RSS. What the BJP has done is to deliver a resounding snub to the TDP and yet the latter, as it turned out, has seconded the nomination of Mr. Joshi.

As for the other part impinging on parliamentary democracy-related concerns, the Shiv Sena's supremo, Bal Thackeray, has made little attempt to conceal the utter contempt he had for governance by people's elected representatives and for such liberal concepts as the rule of law, secularism and pluralism that are the defining principles of India's Constitution-ordained democratic polity. It is no secret that Mr. Thackeray, an unabashed votary of authoritarian ways, found the democratic processes and institutions useful only to the limited extent of gaining control over the levers of `power' and that he remote-controlled them wherever and whenever his party happened to acquire access, be it at the local, State or Central level. Consider also the brazenness with which Mr. Thackeray mounted an inflammatory communal campaign to the point of attracting disenfranchisement by the Election Commission. As for Mr. Joshi himself, his talk of establishing the "first Hindu State" in Maharashtra was raised in an unsuccessful election petition. Nothing could be a greater insult to the cherished democratic values than vesting a Shiv Sainik with the authority of presiding over the nation's highest legislative body. At another level, it amounts to conferring more legitimacy on an anti-democratic and communal outfit with a divisive agenda.

The BJP leadership has of course gone through the motions of consultation with the NDA constituents and the major Opposition parties this time around, unlike in 1998 when it resorted to murky backroom manipulations before nominating the TDP's Balayogi in a coup-like operation, and Mr. Joshi is all set to get elected uncontested. It has indeed been a convention that the Speaker (or Chairman) is from the ruling party or coalition and that the choice be made through a process of consensus among different political segments of the House. But these virtues stand seriously undermined in the present case and, as such, an open contest, even in the face of a certain defeat because of the numerical superiority enjoyed by the ruling establishment, would have been in order. In this sense, by adopting a hands-off approach in the name of upholding a convention and by not forcing a contest, the Opposition has failed to root for a vital democratic principle. To his credit, it must be said, Mr. Joshi, now Union Minister for Heavy Industry, has good parliamentary and administrative experience, having also had a stint as Chief Minister of Maharashtra for over four years, and this should stand him in good stead while carrying out the onerous duties of his new assignment. One hopes Mr. Thackeray does not, true to style, start functioning as a `remote control' vis-a-vis Mr. Joshi, the Speaker.

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