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Not right to change House convention

Not right to change House convention

The government has produced a strange and unacceptable excuse for its decision by claiming that Mahtab has been a member for seven consecutive terms while Suresh’s tenure had interruptions.

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Last Updated : 23 June 2024, 22:50 IST
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The inaugural session of the 18th Lok Sabha might start on a jarring note after the appointment of the BJP’s Bhartruhari Mahtab as the pro tem Speaker, instead of the Congress party’s Kodikunnil Suresh. Suresh is the senior most member of the House as this is his eighth term as a member.

Mahtab is in his seventh term. By convention, the senior most member is selected as the pro tem Speaker, whichever party the member belongs to.

The pro tem Speaker presides over the House when members take oath and the Speaker’s election is held. It is a temporary position and the incumbent holds office usually for three days. The senior most member is called upon to preside over the House as a formality. No controversial decisions may have to be taken or rulings made by the pro tem Speaker till the House is fully constituted and the new Speaker assumes office.

The government has produced a strange and unacceptable excuse for its decision by claiming that Mahtab has been a member for seven consecutive terms while Suresh’s tenure had interruptions. This is a self-serving argument because the idea behind the convention is that the member with the longest tenure in parliament should be the pro tem Speaker.

Suresh has a longer tenure than Mahtab. The BJP had listed its then MP Maneka Gandhi for the position in 2019, even though she had had an interrupted tenure in the House. Eventually, Virender Kumar of the BJP got the position. But it is clear that the selection of Mahtab was a conscious decision. The message might be that the government is not willing to give any accommodation to the Opposition in the new Lok Sabha, though the Opposition has a greater presence in the House than in the previous one.

It is a political message, and the Opposition’s charge that Suresh was denied his position because he is a Dalit may also be political.

The government has signalled that it would continue its tough policy on critics, dissenters and Opposition leaders with the sanction for the prosecution of writer Arundhati Roy and the Enforcement Directorate’s hot pursuit of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

It will be unfortunate if it follows a policy hostile to the Opposition in parliament also. The 17th Lok Sabha was marred by suspensions, expulsions and disqualifications of Opposition members, acrimonious exchanges, poor debates, casual legislative work and a total domination by the government. There was no Deputy Speaker, a post mandated by the Constitution.

There were hopes that the new Lok Sabha would function better. The Opposition members who are part of the panel to assist the pro tem Speaker have decided to protest by not performing their duties. There are signs that the situation might escalate further. 

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