Leader of the Opposition’s speech: three-fourths tawdry
Parliament’s historic debate on Saturday, which resulted in Anna Hazare agreeing to break his 12-day fast, began with an appeal for a collective “sense of the House” on the Lokpal Bill from Pranab Mukherjee, the leader of the House.
It was soon the turn of Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, to hold forth. She trotted out a brilliantly pungent speech, as always. The brilliance lay in her usual condescension and prevarication; not in bipartisanism, as it ought to have been for once.
She began by attacking Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his zero-hour speech a day earlier. This was uncalled for and below the belt.
Whether or not Gandhi’s proposals on Lokpal — which he made in that speech — were a “game-changer” as he claimed outside Parliament, he certainly had the right to express it.
Gandhi spoke with permission of the chair. The disdain which Swaraj expressed for the chair for allowing Gandhi to state his views is contemptuous of parliamentary democracy.
The Leader of the Opposition should have taken her hectoring lecture to a political rally, while rest of the House could have got along with the task of resolving the impasse between the people and Parliament over an anti-corruption law.
Holding a political rival’s feet to the fire is one thing, but to be taking offence just because Gandhi spoke, is plain intolerance. Swaraj’s tone was so beneath what should have a discourse of rousing bipartisanship and statesmanship. The queen of political hardball, is Swaraj exempt from at least temporarily putting aside of political differences?
Swaraj said she wanted to know whether Rahul Gandhi was making a speech to the nation or addressing Parliament. She could have critiqued the merits of Gandhi’s views on Lokpal. That alone would have made her attack on Gandhi germane and relevant. Instead, she dished out a speech which was three-fourths tawdry.
Then, it was Swaraj’s turn to take on the Prime Minister. It was a personal-style attack, suitable for political platforms, not for a “historic debate”.
“The Prime Minister seldom speaks. But when he does, no one (in his government) listens to him,” Swaraj said in Hindi, taking a swipe at his ministers. “Listen to your Prime Minister. He is saying the right thing,” she added.
Swaraj was referring to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s readiness to bring his office under the vigil of an anti-corruption law, but which was not accepted by his Cabinet. This contradiction has indeed revealed the frivolity with which the Congress-led government treated the issue of Lokpal bill.
But such attacks don’t carry much moral weight when they come from people in the BJP, who did not honour Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s wishes 14 years ago on a graver issue: the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Did Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi pay any heed to Vajpayee’s repeated appeal to him to act in accordance with “raj dharma” and stop the riots? Did L.K. Advani allow Vajpayee to have his way when he wanted to resign in disgust? Listen to BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s account of what happened here.
It doesn’t suit the pot to call the kettle black. But that’s the BJP’s way. Question everyone’s conduct but your own.