Today would certainly stand as a special day in our parliamentary history, when we had to discuss a topic like ‘intolerance’. For a nation whose Constitution is inspired by the principles of liberalism, democracy, plurality, respect of human rights, freedom of expression, culture, religion and choices, that there comes a day when there is a genuine cause of a debate on intolerance, is perhaps the most damning comment itself on where we have come to.
One did not expect to see much happening in the debate itself. There was expectation of some stellar commentaries on where we have come to, the feeling of suffocation and suppression being felt nation-wide by all thinking people, by all those who are different from the standardised moulds our rulers want to define for us. Then a denial of this through examples, platitudes, a few quoted in Sanskrit, and a plethora of rhetorical speeches. It was expected that statements that shall hurt the ruling dispensation (both political and bureaucratic) would find opposition of noise and ruckus. But what happened today is of a different nature and points to much else.
Mohammad Salim CPI(MP), while initiating the debate, stated that the Union Home Minister had said of the 2014 Modi victory, that he was the “first Hindu ruler after 800 years”. This led to the Home Minister denying he ever said it, and then Mr Salim quoting the Outlook magazine from where his comment had been quoted. Normally, this would have called for some deadlock, and the issue resolved once the Speaker expunged the remarks.
But what happened in this case was different. The ruling benches kept insisting that Mr Salim withdraw his remark, and he quite correctly stated that he only quoted a magazine, and Government or Mr Rajnath Singh must confront the magazine, rather than confront him. This is always the case when there is a contention, and in anycase once a remark has been expunged what does anyone withdraw.
And then started a deluge. Members from the BJP, went hysterical complaining about falling standards in Parliament, about the culture of accusations that needs to end, one MP even stating that how can a press report be taken more seriously than the statement of the Home Minister, and the “sanctity of Lok Sabha”.
I find this nature of protest untenable. MPs always use their privilege of speaking to articulate their concerns or their accusations or their allegations, and unless fabricated or known to be made falsely, the House records and Government has a due process to ascertain their validity. In the last many years, the norms in Parliament have been changing. Allegations, based on newspaper or media reports are commonplace, and used strategically by opposition depending on what suits them politically – to let the house run or not. Mr Jaitley famously said on 30th January, 2011 that “..parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic.”; on 26th August 2012 he said “There are occasions when obstruction in Parliament brings greater benefits to the country”, and Sushma Swaraj stated on 7th September, 2012 “Not allowing Parliament to function is a form of democracy like any other form”. Fair enough, and so also quoting allegations or embarrassing remarks.
In last Lok Sabha, Mr Shashi Tharoor was blamed for unproven misdemeanours related with IPL, and made to resign, and with no evidence ever shown against him. In Lok Sabha, the then Prime Minister was not allowed to introduce his newly sworn-in Ministers (a long standing convention of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) by a screaming BJP, led by Sushma Swaraj. It was in Lok Sabha, that we saw the shameful incidence of BJP members constantly calling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a “chor”, something unprecedented in legislative history.
Neither then nor now is there any evidence terming Dr Singh as even remotely dishonest. Twenty months of BJP Government has found nothing on him, or on Mr Shashi Tharoor, or on Shri Pawan Bansal, or on Mr Ashok Chavan, or on Shri Natwar Singh. Do we remember the ruckus over them and the name calling by BJP members in Lok Sabha. Where was the sanctity of Lok Sabha then? How come news reports were then quoted to make allegations in Parliament and Ministers made to resign, even though no evidence existed? How come then MPs were not asked to prove authenticity of media reports that they were quoting, something that the BJP MPs want Mohd Salim to do today. How come no Lok Sabha sanctity was compromised then?
The issue is not whether allegations are right or not. It is whether the space that has been made and upheld in our Parliamentary system to keep Government on its toes, and people in power on the sharp edge of scrutiny going to be sacrificed, because it does not suit a quasi-fascist Government?
The BJP fears such comments coming out in public, because it is what they internally believe. When the Prime Minister on his own victory refers to 1200 years of foreign rule, then this quote of Mr Salim, actually said by Rajnath ji or not, is not relevant. They believe that a Hindu Hriday Samrat has become the Prime Minister, and the first tentative steps of the baby of hindu rashtra are being taken. For them, those who do not believe in this “tryst with destiny” are the one who are intolerant.
We are debating intolerance, but there are two points of view. Each reads a different tryst with destiny.