Redefining Speaker’s power

SC decision fine, but it’s about we the people

Redefining Speaker’s power

INDIcating the need for a rethink, the Supreme Court has asked Parliament to reconsider if the Speaker should continue to decide disqualification petitions of legislators under the anti-defection law. The court asked for an independent mechanism to decide such cases, besides fixing a time limit of three months. The fractured nature of mandates has given rise to coalition politics, where disagreements arise between alliance partners. The quest for power along with money and muscle makes governments an unseemly spectacle, jeopardising political stability. That political stability is paramount has never been in doubt, more so when it is cobbled on the basis of shared beliefs. While the issue concerns their jurisdiction, charges of misuse of authority have always put presiding officers under a cloud.

Kesari Nath Tripathi as the UP Speaker proved to be controversial after the BSP split in 2003. Somnath Chatterjee faced flak from his own party, the CPM, after he refused to quit as Speaker on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal during UPA-I. The absence of a whip allowed him to continue, though he was expelled by the party. The interpretation of the law has also been challenged, when in the absence of a formal resignation, defection gets inferred by conduct — through ‘anti-party’ activities.

Earlier, too, it was suggested that the President or the Governor should decide on the advice of the Election Commission. It should be ensured that the assignment does not become another sinecure for the judiciary. The court interprets and upholds the Constitution while the legislature enacts laws. The decision of the Speaker on disqualification is already subject to judicial review. While the SC does ask for introspection, the legislature should not abdicate its responsibility. Parliament represents the people and it should have a self-correcting mechanism. What better affirmation of it than the Preamble getting recited at agitations. Presiding officers should conform to the highest standards of conduct. Given the dynamics of politics, it is not always possible, but as Munshi Premchand said in his story Panch Parmeshwar, the responsibility of the Chair should melt away all the bias.

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