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Whither impartiality of Speaker?

Whither impartiality of Speaker?
Highlights

Whither impartiality of Speaker.Both the State legislatures are witnessing an angry opposition poised to move no-trust move against the Speakers. It is a matter of concern for parliamentary practices to see the office of the presiding officer getting controversial so early after the elections.

S Madhusudhana Chary, Telangana SpeakerIt is a matter of concern for parliamentary practices to see the office of the presiding officer getting controversial so early after the elections.The institution of Speaker is locked in the bitter political conflict between the ruling party and the opposition.The constitutional ideals are scorned at as political exigencies take centre-stage

Though a Congressman, it would be my duty and effort to deal with all members and sections of the House with justice and equity, and it would be my duty to be impartial and remain above all considerations of party or of political career Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar, First Speaker of Lok Sabha

Both the State legislatures are witnessing an angry opposition poised to move no-trust move against the Speakers. It is a matter of concern for parliamentary practices to see the office of the presiding officer getting controversial so early after the elections. The institution of Speaker is locked in the bitter political conflict between the ruling party and the opposition. The constitutional ideals are scorned at as political exigencies take centre-stage.

Kodela Sivaprasada Rao,  AP Speaker

India adopted the British model of speakership. The presiding officer of a legislative house, Speaker of the Assembly or Chairman of the Council, should keep oneself aloof from party politics. There are unparallel examples in the history of parliamentary institutions to underline the impartiality and non-party character of Speaker.

For example, Speaker Patel in the election of 1926 did not stand on the Congress ticket, but stood as an independent candidate from his old constituency and was returned unopposed. But, such noble practices were completely laid to rest in the current era of competitive politics. Speaker before and after relinquishing the office continues to remain in active party politics. The relationship between Speaker and the party from which he was elected has been part of the agenda of many meetings of presiding officers of legislative bodies.

The 1951 conference of presiding officers was of the opinion that a convention should be established that the seat from which Speaker stands for re-election should not be contested and that the Speaker should not take part in party politics. Speaker Mavalankar on 15th May, 1952, at the time of his election as the Speaker of Lok Sabha said, “It is obviously not possible in the present condition of our political and parliamentary life, to remain as insular as the English Speaker so far as political life goes.

But, the Indian Speaker acting as such will be absolutely a non-party man meaning thereby he keeps aloof from party deliberations and controversies. He does not cease to be a politician merely by the fact of his being Speaker. We have yet to evolve political parties and healthy conventions about Speakership , the principle of which is that once a Speaker is not opposed by any party in the matter of his election , whether in the constituency or in the House , so long as he wishes to continue as a Speaker.

To expect the Speaker to be out of politics all together without the corresponding convention is perhaps entertaining contradictory expectations. … Though a Congressman, it would be my duty and effort to deal with all members and sections of the House with justice and equity, and it would be my duty to be impartial and remain above all considerations of party or of political career. “

Unfortunately, even after more than six decades, the Indian polity and parliamentary practices failed to evolve any healthy conventions as envisioned by Mavalankar. The polity, however, often miserably failed to produce men and women of Mavalankar’s integrity and impartiality thus rendering the august institution to undesirable political controversies.

The conference of presiding officers held at Gwalior in 1953 adopted a resolution to the effect that a convention should be established that the seat from which Speaker stands for election should not be contested. But the political system in India failed to evolve any such healthy convention. But still we expect the Speaker to be neutral to party politics. Mavalankar in his address to the presiding officer’s conference held at Srinagar in 1954 said, “…Speaker has to abstain from active participation in all controversial topics of politics.

The essence of the matter is that a Speaker has to place himself in the position of a judge. He has not to become a partisan so as to avoid unconscious bias for or against a particular view and thus inspire confidence in all sections of the House about his integrity and impartiality.“ Mavalankar’s successors also endorsed similar views and upheld the traditions of political neutrality of this great institution. Speaker Ayyangar while assuming the office on 8th March, 1956, said, “I assure every section of this House, every group and every individual who does not belong to any particular group that I will never let down their privileges.

A member‘s privileges as a member shall be constantly before me. I do not make any difference between a party and party.” A committee appointed by the conference of presiding officers in1967 observed that impartiality of the Speaker being an indispensable condition of the successful working of the parliamentary democracy, it is essential that the Speaker should severe all connections with the party to which he may have belonged.

Even while enacting the anti-defection law in the form of Tenth Schedule to the Constitution, a special provision was made therein to enable a person who has been elected to the office of the Speaker or to or any other presiding officer of the parliament and legislature to severe his or her connections with the political party to which he or she belonged to rejoin it when he or she ceases to hold that office without incurring disqualification. This special provision was made to uphold the non-party character of the institution of Speaker.

The Speaker is removable from his or her office by a resolution of the House passed by a majority of all the then members of the House. This constitutional provision renders the office of Speaker vulnerable as the ruling party can remove him or her at their will. Thus, the impartiality and non-party character of presiding officer is now left to the healthy parliamentary traditions and conventions. The prevailing political culture makes it an idealism.

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