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Posted at: Apr 25, 2019, 6:47 AM; last updated: Apr 25, 2019, 6:47 AM (IST)

Lok Sabha Speaker at the receiving end

Sunil Gatade

Sunil Gatade
Sumitra Mahajan’s track record is unmatchable. She is the only woman MP to have been elected eight consecutive times, and that too from the same constituency — Indore. Her impressive victory margins are testimony to her mass appeal. Despite all this, she has not been renominated by the BJP.
Lok Sabha Speaker at the receiving end
Raw deal: Unlike BJP veterans LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, who were summarily removed from the electoral scene, Sumitra Mahajan has been eased out.

Sunil Gatade
Senior Journalist

THE BJP thought it fit to field a terror accused, Pragya Singh Thakur, from Bhopal, but  dumped Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan from Indore. Mahajan, who had entered the Lok Sabha three decades ago by defeating former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister PC Sethi, will go down in the country’s history as the first Speaker who was denied renomination by her party. 

The ‘tale of two cities’ is a telling commentary on how much the BJP has changed under the watch of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah.

It was a bolt from the blue for Mahajan, who turned 76 recently, as she believed that she would again be the ‘chosen one’, given her proximity to PM Modi, with whom she had worked in the party about two decades ago.

Mahajan was raring to go in the poll arena. She might have thought that she could again be the presiding officer in the world’s largest democracy.

In retrospect, Mahajan’s dumping appears to be a case of ‘use and throw’ by the BJP after getting the ‘job done’— be it to ensure that the old guard, including LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, does not make trouble in the House and to facilitate the passage of whatever controversial proposals the government brought, such as Aadhaar as a money Bill.

Her track record is unmatchable. One of the seniormost Members of Parliament, she held the unique distinction of being the only woman MP to be elected eight consecutive times, and that too from the same constituency — Indore. Her impressive victory margins are testimony to her mass appeal.

As the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha, the Speaker is one of the highest constitutional functionaries in the parliamentary system. So, it was natural for Mahajan to believe that she would get the BJP ticket on a platter.

The party high command, too, appears to have led Tai, as Mahajan is popularly known as, up the garden path as there was no inkling whatsoever that it was having second thoughts on her candidature.

Parliament has had a galaxy of eminent Speakers, who have lent dignity and prestige to the chair. Mahajan was unanimously elected to the exalted position on June 6, 2014, for running the House at a time when Modi’s persona was being projected as larger than life and the Grand Old Party was down in the dumps.

To put it gently, Tai’s stewardship could not be seen as an era of a flourishing parliamentary democracy as she appeared to be toeing the line of the Modi dispensation lock, stock and barrel. She was apparently not quite up to the task of conducting the House fairly and impartially in the wake of the pressures from the government’s managers.

A BJP veteran, who has also been denied the ticket, had once privately remarked that the powers that be were not happy with Mahajan’s conduct, which they felt was ‘not fully accommodating’ to the ruling side.

This is notwithstanding the fact that the sustenance of people’s faith in democratic institutions depends a great deal on the finesse and effectiveness with which the Speaker conducts the proceedings.

During the Modi era, Parliament has been divided into ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and Mahajan had, by and large, remained faithful to the saffron cause, much to the detriment of the Opposition, especially the Congress.

If this is the case, the denial of ticket to her meant a reflection on her performance. Modi-Shah may not have thought it ‘up to the mark’. Her crossing 75 must have been just an alibi. In a recent interview, Mahajan said she did not have authentic information about her party’s policy of not giving the ticket to leaders who are 75-plus.

Her remarks that politics cannot have a fixed retirement age as is the case with government jobs, days after she ‘opted’ out of the poll fray, showed that Tai was deeply hurt 

— and rightly so.

There were suggestions when Modi became the Prime Minister that his ‘guru’, LK Advani, should be made the presiding officer of the Lower House as a mark of respect to the party veteran who is well versed with the nitty-gritty of Parliament’s proceedings. There were other suggestions which were also apparently not appealing to the Prime Minister, who wanted to have his way in Parliament. After all, Modi was the first non-Congress leader who had secured a majority for his party virtually single-handedly. This brought Mahajan’s candidature to the fore as Modi had worked with her in the party when he was a national office-bearer.

But as Mahajan has ‘opted’ out of the fray to allow the BJP top leadership to decide the issue freely, what is being felt is that Modi and Shah have damaged an institution by the way they have gone about the matter. 

Indore is the only constituency in Madhya Pradesh from where the BJP has not announced its candidate amid reports that Mayor Malini Gaur is the hot favourite.

Unlike BJP veterans like Advani and Joshi, who were summarily removed from the electoral scene, Mahajan has been eased out. A bad precedent in parliamentary democracy has been set. This is no way to treat the Speaker.

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