Shadow over presiding officer?
Yet another controversy this time involving the newly elected deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, Prof PJ Kurien and minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Rajiv Shukla has erupted during the monsoon session of Parliament.
Kurien reportedly adjourned the House for the day on Tuesday after Shukla was heard whispering in his ear, “Pure din ke liye House adjourn kara dijiye”. Even though most people had anticipated the adjournment given that the CAG report had provided enough ammunition to the opposition to corner the treasury benches, the minister’s advice heard by members since the microphone had not been switched off has stirred up a hornet’s nest.
Shukla is regarded as “Mr Fix it” by many of his contemporaries for his ability to salvage lost situations due to his personal networking. But this time, his action has cast a shadow over the independent working of the presiding officer who is held in very esteem by the political class cutting across party lines. In fact, Kurien’s elevation as the deputy Chairperson was the result of a consensus amongst all parties and his ability to conduct the House affairs objectively have earned him all round praise.
In all fairness, Prof Kurien must have arrived at the decision to adjourn the House on his own accord but Shukla’s audible advice has raised suspicion in some circles that the government was trying to manipulate the proceedings of the House. It is an accepted fact that Members do often give suggestions to the Chair and it is upto the Chair to take cognizance of such an advice. And to assume that Prof Kurien had acted because of the minister’s advice alone would be unfair to his impartiality.
Parliament experts feel that Members should and do give suggestions but that should be done with the requisite propriety. In other words if this kind of advice has to be given it should be from their allotted seat as opposed to clandestine communication.
Prof Somnath Chatterjee, who was the speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha, on Tuesday cautioned everyone about casting needless aspersions over the conduct of presiding officers as it would harm Parliamentary democracy immensely. There are others who agree with this and believe that Prof. Kurien has an unblemished record as a Parliamentarian and the adjournment of the House for the day should be seen as his independent decision even if Shukla was expressing a similar view.
In a session, which has not witnessed any matter being taken up seriously, Tuesday’s episode will be difficult to explain to the common man since the credibility of the political class has taken a beating over the past few years. The general perception about politicians is very dismal and it needs to change in order to save our system and our Parliamentary democracy. Ministers like Shukla should be more careful in the future as actions such as the audible advice do contribute to needless controversies.