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Democracy drugged, debauched and depraved

V.R. Krishna Iyer

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The grave constitutional issues that were recently thrown up in Parliament demand
the Supreme Court’s attention.

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Members of Parliament, a pro-tem Prime Minister, some power-hungry parties and


certain sinister political power-brokers blasphemed India before the world during
the recent session of the Lok Sabha. They demoralised Indian humanity, which puts
its sacred trust in swaraj and the Constitution. The people’s confidence in
parliamentary institutions and the Cabinet system was shaken and scandalised.
Whoever might have won the confidence motion in numerical terms, the country lost
its confidence in the travesty that passed for democracy. The special session
proved, thanks to the manner of operation of the parties and the politicians, Dr.
Samuel Johnson’s definition: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Gandhiji, euphemised by a national fiction as the Father of the Nation, wrote


against “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without
character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without
sacrifice and politics without principles.” Sensitive humanists and dedicated
democrats, viewing the notorious debate, the bumptious ballyhoo, the berserk
behaviour and the bedlam proceedings, may suspect our activist bourgeoisie
polluting public life as being guilty of the Mahatma’s anathematic prescription.

Or was Winston Churchill’s assessment during a Commons debate of Indian leaders in


1947 true now? He categorised our political leaders asking for Independence as
“rogues, rascals and freebooters.”

The Indian Parliament has seen grand debates and eloquent speeches but has
suffered a dark decadence and a satellite syndrome. Some suspect mushroom parties
have been beset with a propensity for lucre and power and, as the means to an end,
pathologically corrupt conduct. Going by the betrayals and great abstentions seen
during the voting process, our integrity seems to have gone haywire and taken a
holiday. Even the respected and impartial Speaker has come under controversy.

The pro-Bush Prime Minister, known for his probity, verity, decency, dignity and
simplicity, faces pungent political polemics. His covert ‘deal’ with the
internationally domineering and globally condemned lame-duck President has left
the country’s policy of non-alignment in disrepute.

Is the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh perspective anti-Jawaharlal Nehru, anti-Indira


Gandhi and pro-big business, and retrograde? Parliamentary democracy will remain
healthy so long as there is a plural party system with the loyalty of members, the
integrity of ideologies and the implementation of principles and policies set out
in its manifesto and commitment to the constituency. It is regrettable that during
the confidence vote crisis almost every party found some of its members betraying
party integrity in the voting or in abstaining from it, contrary to political
propriety and basic morality.

A verdict by Parliament on a crucial motion of political paramountcy commands


moral authority when the majority vote truly represents every member’s judgment on
the proposition at issue. But if the process suffers deception and other
fundamental flaws, Parliament is sick and its verdict is weak, though legally the
Speaker pronounces who has won the vote and that holds good.

Dr. Manmohan Singh claims to have secured a victory in his confidence motion after
the debate. The glory of the parliamentary system lies in the free, frank,
fearless, lucid, lucent expression of views by members without affection or ill-
will, but true to one’s conviction and conscience, and any party mandate. If money
corrupts, if pressure and threat tamper, if temptation for office or other
extraneous considerations vitiate, if voices are muffled by noises, if members
behave in berserk fashion and the House degenerates into bedlam, if sanity is
silenced by sound and fury, if acrobatics, theatricality and looney display of
crores of rupees worth of currency notes pollutes the sanctity of the solemn Lok
Sabha, the efforts of the Speaker, great though he be, will be in vain as he tries
to regulate order but fails to restore peace and check the chaos.

In such cases the morality of the verdict becomes dubious. The speeches of many
members who spoke during the session were inaudible. Even the Leader of the House,
the wonder whose speech the House and the country waited to hear, could not
perform because of the stridency of the Opposition benches. The Prime Minister
handed over his manuscript eloquence to the Speaker, denying the country the right
to hear him. Was that a debate, just a presentation and a noetic submission? Or
was it a situation where intelligent expression and sound argument became the
casualties? Yet, the Speaker, with rare dexterity and deft management skills, got
through the allotted hours. The counting of votes followed, the anarchy subsided,
and the Chair pronounced that the motion was carried.

What is the truth? It is a riddle, a mystery and an enigma. The Prime Minister
continues to govern since the Speaker has declared the motion as carried. The
moral majority is a speculative search.

Why did not the police act when crores of rupees were handled by Members of
Parliament as bribe received, under plainly culpable circumstances? The Penal Code
prevails and corruption remains a crime. The rulings of the Supreme Court or the
provisions of parliamentary business do not oblige the police to abdicate their
duty to initiate action and investigate when a crime is credibly suspected to have
taken place. They need not wait for an inquiry by the Speaker or proceedings by
the Privileges Committee. Voting and speaking in the House are immune to judicial
scrutiny, but taking money illegally under criminal circumstances comes within the
jurisdiction of a police investigation.

All these factors raise the question whether bogus debates or phoney proceedings
can reduce Parliament to a fictitious instrument, demolishing the basic structure
of the Constitution. These grave constitutional issues demand the Supreme Court’s
hearing and judgment, or at least a thorough constituent power exercise. This is
not a dummy democracy. The people of India shall not submit to a simulacrum of a
system that does not fulfill justice — social, economic or political.

The nadir of debating reality in the Lok Sabha may be compared to the well-known
‘no confidence motion’ moved against British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
during the Second World War. His celebrated reply ran thus: “This long debate has
now reached its final stage. What a remarkable example it has been of the
unbridled freedom of our parliamentary institutions in time of war. Everything
that could be thought of or raked up has been used to weaken confidence in the
government, has been used to prove that Ministers are incompetent and to weaken
their confidence in themselves, to make the Army distrust the backing it is
getting from the civil power, to present the government as a set of nonentities
over whom the Prime Minister towers, and then to undermine him in his own heart,
and, if possible, before the eyes of the nation. All this poured out by cable and
radio to all parts of the world, to the distress of all our friends and to the
delight of all our foes! I am in favour of this freedom, which no other country
would use, or dare to use in times of mortal peril such as those through which we
are passing.”

Here in India our Prime Minister was not allowed to speak by the use of noise
terrorism — which was a pathetic and bathetic barbarity. In the language of Shashi
Tharoor, “Let us make haste while the sun shines.” Recently he wrote what is
valuable national advice with which our Prime Minister is familiar. “In this
strategy, the sun occupies centrestage,” the Prime Minister memorably said, “as it
should, being literally the original source of all energy. We will pool all our
scientific, technical and managerial talents, with financial sources, to develop
solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform
the lives of our people.” Dr. Manmohan Singh added, and this was no hyperbole:
“Our success in this endeavour will change the face of India.”