Saturday, July 13, 2024

Parliament not a place for lone wolves


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By Patricia Mukhim

This news in Firstpost, one of the leading news portals on June 7 last wrote this news captioned “Who are Lok Sabha’s 7 Independent MPs? Are they with NDA or INDI Alliance. I read this news with interest hoping to see the name of our newly elected MP, Dr Ricky Syngkon as one among the 7 but it did not feature there. The 7 Independent MPs mentioned were Vishal Patil who contested from the Sangli seat in Maharashtra, Amritpal Singh from the Khadoor seat in Punjab, Sheikh Abdul Rashid from the Baramulla seat in Jammu & Kashmir, Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav who won from Purnea in Bihar, Mohammed Hanifa from Ladakh, Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa from Faridkot, Punjab, Patel Umeshbhai Babubhai from Daman and Diu. Not one of the 7 independent MPs said they would support the NDA. Nearly all of them barring Sarabjeet Singh have said they would be with the INDI Alliance.
It was therefore surprising to note that the VPP stance is not to align either with the NDA or the Opposition INDI Alliance. The second group is a coalition of 26 political parties. Their main agenda at the time of their formation was to defeat the BJP and its exclusivist agenda in 2024, to protect the Constitution, to promote inclusive development and above all to uphold the secular values of India. One would have thought that the lone VPP MP would align with forces that believe in the intrinsic values of the Indian Constitution – in particular the idea and practice of secularism where people of all religions are given equal respect. The NDA had in its previous tenures reduced the margins of freedom that Indians had taken for granted during the Congress rule and even during the tenure of AB Vajpayee as Prime Minister. Since 2014, when Narendra Modi took over the reins of this country we have seen India our freedoms shrinking and the media being pushed to the wall. Some in the media took the easy way out and compromised on the most cherished ideals of what used to be known as “free and fair” journalism. They became the handmaiden of the BJP-NDA. Prime Minister Modi got away with not having a single press conference in 10 years of his governance.
It would have been in Meghalaya’s interests for both its MPs to speak with one voice. Parliament is not a place for lone wolves. To consider oneself so independent as to not need a lobby group is to be ove-rconfident and supercilious. But perhaps the VPP feels it cannot work in tandem with the Garo MP since the Party is on a collision course with the Garos on the State Reservation Policy. But can that agenda not be left to the legislators here while the MP works towards achieving the higher goals of nation building and of defending the constitutional rights of the minorities whether because of their tribal status or the religion they profess.
I don’t think Dr Syngkon needs any education on what the role of the Opposition in Parliament is. Since Prime Minister Modi has short-circuited one of the pillars of democracy – the free press – now it becomes even more incumbent for the Opposition to question the NDA Government and hold it accountable to the public. This helps to fix the mistakes of the Ruling Party. The Opposition is as much responsible in upholding the best interests of the people of the country and the respective states they represent. They have to keep the Government on its toes to ensure that it does not pass any policy that is anti-people or take sudden unilateral and arbitrary decisions such as demonetisation or even the sudden lockdown when Covid struck which caused severe hardships for many migrant workers. Those who suffered on account of those impulsive decisions could not have forgotten them so soon. So too those who could not find a bed in hospitals or oxygen tanks when their family members needed them. I am sure all those nightmarish decisions have had an impact in reducing the BJP’s seats in 2024. It is the height of arrogance for any party to forget those harrowing incidents of 2020-2021. Some have never recovered from the trauma and never got back their jobs.
Of course the Opposition cannot be totally antagonistic to every policy proposed to be passed if such policy is in public interest. But we know how many Bills were actually passed without any discussion and deliberation even while Opposition MPs were railroaded in the just concluded Lok Sabha. Opposition members were arbitrarily dismissed by the Speaker on some pretext or other and the Bills were thus passed. The Opposition is basically to check the excesses of the ruling or dominant party, which the BJP was in the last Parliament.
Considering that there are 4 types of majorities used in Parliament – Absolute, Effective, Simple, and Special Majority it is important to be with a group that votes for the right causes in each of the above voting patterns. There is not enough space here to explain the different types of majorities used for different bills but a reading of the Constitution would inform us why it is important to be present and voting and not to allow the Government to bulldoze its way through by passing important bills with far reaching consequences without discussion. There has been much loose talk before the 2024 elections that if the BJP crosses the 400 seat mark (char sau paar) it had set for itself then the Party would inevitably tinker with the Constitution and bring in facets that would make India a nation as envisaged by the saffron party. It would tune the Constitution to support one language, one religion, one election and a uniform civil code while also implementing the CAA in right earnest. Thankfully the voters rejected this wild ambition.
It is in this very important juncture of our history when democracy needs to be given a fresh lease of life and all the ugliness of an oppressive regime must slowly but surely be weeded out that the people of Meghalaya send their two MPs to Parliament. The people refused to vote for the NPP which had a pre-poll alliance with the BJP. They voted with the hope that the cruelties inflicted on the likes of Fr Stan Swamy would not be repeated. True public memory is short and nothing can be worse than that. But if we let such sordid memories slip past without renewing our commitment to vote democracy back then we are forgetting something important.
One hopes the VPP comes off its high horse and learns to work in tandem with other like-minded political parties. There’s much to learn from more experienced MPs and to stand together on crucial issues affecting the country. Politics as played in the state with political egotism playing spoilsport cannot be the same at the national level. Here what is required is political maturity and more statesmanship than petty politicking. The people of Shillong Parliamentary Constituency had given the VPP a resounding victory. Let this mandate be used to meet the peoples’ aspirations and not to score political goals. We are a small state and we should matter in the way that our MPs represent us in Parliament.


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