Fearless Talk: A ‘new’ chapter in Parliamentary democracy

Fearless Talk: A ‘new’ chapter in Parliamentary democracy

It is prima facie clear that the ruling of Speaker Narwekar is bad in law, as it goes against the purpose for which the Tenth Schedule was incorporated in the Constitution; it also makes a mockery of Parliamentary democracy

Abhay MokashiUpdated: Saturday, January 20, 2024, 12:34 AM IST
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Representative Image | File

Two important events were organised this week, soon after the ‘historic’ ruling of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar on the status of the Members of the Legislative Assembly belonging to the Shiv Sena who questioned their party leader Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership.

Both the events were held concurrently, the first being a ‘Mahapatrakar Parishad’ (a mega press conference) organised by the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray, and the other event was a press conference by Narwekar. One wonders why the Shiv Sena called it a press conference, since it was far from being a press conference. The number of journalists were far outnumbered by party leaders and activists, along with invitees. The Shiv Sena is an old party and its leaders, including Sanjay Raut, who is a journalist, know that only journalists are expected to attend a press conference and that they are given an opportunity to ask questions. The journalists could be prevented from asking questions in a press briefing. In the present instance, it was more of a press briefing, where party leaders and lawyers briefed journalists and others on the various legal aspects of the stand taken by the Shiv Sena legislators, who rebelled against the party and its leadership, to join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party to form a government, thus forcing out the previous government led by their former leader Uddhav Thackeray. A large number of the rebels were part of the Thackeray-led government.

It is prima facie clear that the ruling of Speaker Narwekar is bad in law, as it goes against the purpose for which the Tenth Schedule was incorporated in the Constitution; it also makes a mockery of Parliamentary democracy. The Tenth Schedule was introduced due to the initiative of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had incorporated an anti-defection law, to curb if not to put an end to defections by Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies.

The Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray did not agree with the ruling of the Speaker, who acted as a tribunal in the matter and declared that there is dissent within the Shiv Sena and that the Shiv Sena led by Shinde is the real Shiv Sena and has the right to appoint a whip and the leader of the House.

The ruling is being challenged by the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena in the Supreme Court and by the Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena in the Bombay High Court, with both the factions unhappy with Narwekar’s ruling.

The Speaker’s ruling should not be looked at as a verdict on the fight between two factions of a political party, but as a new chapter in Parliamentary democracy in the country, as regards defections.

Apart from the legality of the position taken by Narwekar, any sensible believer in democracy will agree that the order is against the basic principles of democracy. The ruling makes the legislative unit of a political party bigger than the party itself. This means the legislative party, which is of a temporary nature, formed on the election of legislators, where the leader of the legislative party is appointed by the political party, becomes more powerful than the main party itself.

This will give licence to the legislators to go against the wishes of the political party and take it over, meaning that the subsidiary can become the main party.

Thackerary and leaders of his faction of the party deemed it fit to go to the people and present their point of view in the matter, instead of waiting for the verdict of the Supreme Court. It is their right and on that count the party did a good job, with the lawyers and leaders properly explaining the legal aspects of Narwekar’s ruling, in the light of the Supreme Court ruling, given last year, where the apex court left it to the Speaker to decide the faith of the legislators in question. This was done by the Supreme Court, since the power to decide in such situation is vested in the Speaker by the provisions of the Tenth Schedule.

The other event after the Speaker’s ruling was a press conference by the Speaker himself, soon after the Thackeray event. Narwekar had announced in advance that he would address the press and the timing was such that it was to be after Thackeray’s mega event.

It is an accepted norm that those in judicial and quasi-judicial positions should generally not interact with the press, especially on their rulings. Narwekar broke that norm. In his interaction with the press, he spoke about upholding democracy. It was like a butcher speaking about animal rights or Hugh Hefner speaking against nudity; unless of course Narwekar compares himself to Vatsyayana, the author of Kama Sutra and who, by his own reckoning was a celibate, meaning he did not practice what he preached.

Narwekar’s decision to address the press was a clear case of a guilt complex, where he felt the need to explain his position on his ruling. An honest judgement does not require explanation by the person who delivers it. Instead, he should have posted his ruling on the legislature website. The people have a right to read his ruling, but the copy is not available in the public domain.

Whatever the outcome of the case in the Supreme Court, a large number of even lay people have questioned Narwekar’s credibility and that of the august office he holds; this is not a good sign to keep our democracy healthy.

For the two factions of the Shiv Sena the really ruling will come from the public at large, the voters, in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, which are to be followed by the election to the State Legislative Assembly.

The author is a senior journalist and media trainer. He tweets at @a_mokashi

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