In an interview with Raghvendra Rao at her 20, Akbar Road residence, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan talks about the challenges of running Lok Sabha
When the ruling party has such a large number of seats in the Lok Sabha, how much of a challenge is it to ensure the Opposition gets adequate opportunity to air its voice?
In such a situation, the challenge is more. In a democratic country, the Opposition’s voice has some strength. It is also necessary. That’s why we opposed the Emergency. My challenge is more because the Opposition is not just small in number, but it is scattered. Not one party is strong. So, to give them chance to speak and make the government hear them, that is also a challenge. Sometimes, ruling party members feel, we are in large numbers, but you are giving them more chances. But I try to give a chance to everybody — through supplementary questions or during Zero Hour.
How do you react to the practice of moving adjournment motions in a bid to get Question Hour suspended?
From day one, I gave a message, and now I can say we have become successful. The message was that Question Hour will not be suspended under any circumstances. In the future, a national calamity may lead to an adjournment motion getting accepted, but for this or that reason, the Question Hour will not be suspended… You cannot disturb the House.
What has been the most difficult part about running the House?
I am running the House smoothly. Sometimes, it does happen that their opposition is for the sake of opposition. A scattered Opposition is there… so sometimes what happens is that the Congress is quiet but the TRS has its own point and they raise it. Having a dialogue with the aggrieved party is crucial. If you can have a dialogue with them and can satisfy them… the matter can be settled.
Are there any MPs who you feel are trouble makers?
They are not trouble makers. Sometimes they have a valid point. But the timing is different. And I have to tell them that this is not the time to raise a point even though it is valid. I call them to my room and tell them that. For instance, after the recent incident in Moga — I told the House it was a tragic incident but asked them not to politicise it.
With Lok Sabha TV airing the entire proceedings live and many TV news channels running that footage, how relevant do you think is the concept of expunging words from the proceedings? When the nation has already watched unparliamentary words being said on live TV, does it make sense to restrict print publications from publishing them?
We have records. Even today, we refer to what Mavlankar said in 1953. Records are there and we say things based on those records. As an MP, if I had to speak on, say, the railway budget, I would go to the library and see the debates to find who had said what. You go to that record. After 40 years, somebody will go to that record. And if an unparliamentary word is still there, it may lead to a wrong impression. That’s why expunging is necessary. Ten years ago, Soniaji said something for Atalji. Now, nobody remembers it. But if it is in some book…it becomes a matter of record. There’s a proverb, ‘Sau bakaa ek likha (a written word has more weight than a hundred words uttered)’. That ‘likha’ is very important. That’s why we have to expunge things. Somebody may use expletives on the road, but if those expletives are written somewhere, they become a part of history.
You recently ruled that the word ‘Godse’ could not be considered unparliamentary. Do you think there is a need to revisit other such words?
I have seen that the book of unparliamentary expressions has become so thick. Sometimes when the Speaker says something should not go into record, every expunged thing becomes unparliamentary. Why was Godse expunged at that time? It was because of the reference to context. But because it was expunged, it went in that book. So we will have to…we must go through it. I have asked my Secretary General that we must think about it.
Over the years, the meaning of some words changes too.
Among younger MPs, who do you think are the more promising ones?
Some MPs are trying to make informed interventions. Gaurav Gogoi speaks well. Kiren Rijiju is a young minister, but he’s doing very well. Poonam Mahajan appears to have studied a subject before asking questions. Dharmendra Yadav speaks nicely. Same for Deepender Hooda and Dushyant Chautala, K Kavitha, Sushmita Dev — all of them try hard. They study and come prepared.
Do you think MPs should be frisked or made to pass through security systems while entering the House, in the wake of the incidents like the pepper-spray one?
It is taken for granted that MPs have that level of understanding. MPs don’t go through security checks because they are supposed to be responsible persons representing lakhs of people. When your son is getting married, you tell him he must understand the responsibility. If the son doesn’t understand his responsibilities, the daughter-in-law divorces him and leaves. Similarly, people in a constituency can divorce a candidate after five years if he doesn’t behave.