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Shaky pillars

Somnath Chatterjee        Print Edition: Jan 8, 2012

What I am worried about is the way our most important three organs are functioning in tWhat I am worried about is the way our most important three organs are functioning in this country, as well as the media, I must confess. It seems that everybody wants more power than the Constitution has given them. Or people are not interested in discharging the obligations which the constitution has imposed on them.

I think judicial overreach is a matter of great concern. I have repeatedly said that matters of policy are for the government, not for the Courts. But today not only matters of policy, we are deciding what punishments should be given, what sort of fine government should impose, how much compensation should be given by the government to A, how much should be given to B, what sort of laws to be passed. I mean, anything and everything under the Sun. I have said in my speeches that even the dresses of school teachers are being decided by the courts.

Even investigations are being carried out under the Supreme Court's supervision. I don't know the expertise of these judges, though they are very honorable and very learned judges. They decide whether there should be a criminal investigation; whether there should be one or two medical tests; I don't understand all these things. There have been many instances that everybody knows, where judiciary is today trying to abrogate power that the Constitution does not confer on them. Executive and legislature are also not functioning these days. That is of greatest concern to me.

According to me, the greatest problem for our country today is the politics of confrontation.  As a Speaker on several occasions I had expressed my agony that members are not attending to their duties in the Parliament. Now decisions to disrupt the Parliament are taken even before the house convenes at 11 am. Because parties meet and decide before that today they won't allow parliament to function. And in that situation, parliament does not function. Now, my submission is, something I've always been saying, who benefits from this? And here I have something to say about the media's role. I have been requesting the media. I say it is not the Speaker's duty alone to maintain the duty of parliament or parliamentary democracy. Media, which is known as the fourth pillar of democracy, has also a great role. Senior members of parliament have told me - when I was Speaker - that they get best coverage in the media if they do not allow parliament to function. If we have a good debate, only five lines will appear.

But I am not blaming the media alone. The whole approach to India's politics today is that 'I shall not allow others to function. I shall only criticize others, whatever issue there may be'. If a peasant dies and his family is not paid, the opposition is happy because they can criticize that. So, if party A is in government, party B will be very happy. Here I say that it is a national shame, if any peasant in independent India dies because he cannot meet his debt. And therefore, it should be treated as a national issue, and properly discussed in the parliament.

Where is the place where these important issues can be discussed? That is a matter of great concern. I don't think the people are realizing today.

I also ask myself, what is the alternative or substitute for parliamentary democracy in this country? Nobody is suggesting that. You have to have a government; you have to have an administration. How will you run the country? Who will decide now? And where will the laws be made? Laws cannot be made in Ramlila Maidan or Shivaji Park or Brigade Parade ground in Kolkata. Although they are respected people, I don't think anybody has the right to claim that they alone represent the civil society, and they can now frame laws and thrust them upon Parliament. And this is happening because Parliament is not functioning properly, parties are not functioning properly. It is a matter of great agony not only for me, but I am sure for thousands and millions of Indians. Therefore I am afraid that in the future people may ask for a change in parliamentary democracy.

One may ask for dictatorship, one for presidential system, one for monarchical system. What will be the alternative for this country? I most humbly request the political leadership of this country to think: what is the alternative, if at all, if the parliament is not allowed to function? For so-called immediate gain, the long-term impact on the Indian polity is not being considered today. And that is why parliament is showing scenes that nobody wants to see. And as a person who has had something to do with politics and parliament, these are matters of great agony to me. And I must confess it is up to the honourable ladies and gentlemen in the parliament to decide what is to be done.

The problem of poverty is still there; the problem of unemployment is still there. We need to look at our internal problems first. This is what people today are facing. Today farmers are burning their produce because there is no market. The issue of FDI in retail is an important issue, the issue of healthcare, the issue of lack of education, the issue of development, terrorism, naxalism, foreign threats, proxy wars. So many things have to be tackled. How will they be done if the system is not allowed to operate? The biggest problem is the problem of the economy. The world today is in an uncertain economic situation. Europe and the US are in trouble. Our country has shown greater capacity to bear the economic downturn in other countries, but these are matters that are to be discussed and decided. How do you serve the people?

Therefore it's not a question of money only, as some people are saying, that MPs are taking money without attending parliament and all that. This is of less significance than allowing the whole process to function. Therefore these are priority matters. People are losing interest in parliamentary or electoral politics. Even in Bengal in the recent elections, the percentage of voting has gone down.

There are so many things to be done in this country. We have tremendously intelligent boys and girls. Our men and women are tremendously successful in different spheres. They can do wonders provided they are allowed to do things properly. Young people must come forward in different political parties and take up responsibility. You can't blame only and not do anything for the country. I appeal to our young boys and girls, please come forward. Politics, whether you like it or not, you can't avoid it. Therefore take up the responsibility. Don't pass on the responsibility to others. If the present generation has failed, then the next generation has to take up the important task of saving the country, saving parliamentary democracy, and also saving their own future.

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