MEIRA KUMAR, the new Lok Sabha Speaker, is the first Dalit and woman to occupy the high constitutional position. Excerpts from an interview she gave Frontline:
As the first Dalit and woman Speaker of the Lok Sabha, you are expected to bring in a new perspective and orientation to the functioning of Parliament. What concrete dimensions will it have?
I do hope to bring a new perspective to the functioning of the Lok Sabha as the countrys first Dalit and woman Speaker. I have represented empowerment aspirations of the underprivileged sections throughout my political career. But my primary agenda as the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha would not be guided solely by gender- or community-specific parameters. The Lok Sabha is the House of the people. The issues of the people have to be addressed in their entirety here. My effort would be to facilitate such a wholesome application to the issues of the people.
How do you propose to make such facilitation possible?
To start with, I would like to increase the functioning time of Parliament on vital functions such as legislation and parliamentary scrutiny of the executive. These would be the priorities that I want to pursue. As any observer of Parliament would have noticed, the House wastes a lot of time on pointless and unproductive issues. Commotions have erupted over non-issues and have stalled proceedings for days on end.
In the process, one has been noticing that over the years, the time spent on the scrutiny of actions of the executive as well as the time that is available for the executive to present its perspectives have come down considerably. It is my intention to change this. One needs to note that the large young population of this country wants Parliament to spend quality time on constructive deliberations and action.
Many people, including your predecessor Somnath Chatterjee, have gone on record saying that democratic debate and discussion have become virtually absent in the functioning of Parliament. In many ways, this points towards a faulty general approach by parliamentarians as a whole and not errant behaviour by a handful. Do you have any plans to bring about a change in this approach?
I cannot agree that parliamentarians as a whole have an approach or an agenda to disrupt the functioning of Parliament. I am of the view that every member gets elected promising his or her electorate that he or she would highlight the needs, problems and demands of the constituency. The most important thing is to make sure that such commitments are not diverted on account of temporary compulsions, political or otherwise. I propose to discuss this with leaders of all political parties and formulate a system that will facilitate enhancement of the constructive functions of Parliament.
There is a view that the Speaker can maintain his or her impartiality and carry out the constitutional functions enshrined in the office only if he or she resigns from the parent party and severs all political connections. Sushma Swaraj, the Deputy Leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha, is of this view. Former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee too expressed similar views. How do you view this opinion?
There is no constitutional requirement to do this. I am of the view that the Constitution is supreme when it comes to the functioning of any institution and I shall abide by the Constitution.
But there are instances of Speakers resigning from their parent parties. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy did it, and according to Sushma Swaraj, even G.M.C. Balayogi, the Speaker of the 12th Lok Sabha, had resigned from the Telugu Desam Party, to which he belonged.....
As far as I know, only Neelam Sanjiva Reddy resigned from his party when he became Speaker. But there is no requirement for this. The Constitution certainly does not stipulate such a step. I do not think that there is any confusion or dilemma on this question. The Constitution is quite clear that there is no requirement for the Speaker to resign. As far as I can see it, an unnecessary debate is being created on this issue.
Several steps were taken to enhance transparency in the functioning of Parliament. The live telecast of the proceedings of the Lok Sabha was an important step in this direction. Do you propose to continue with measures like this?
Certainly. But I am yet to look into the details of various proposals and measures required to do this. I shall be doing that in due course and evolving concrete steps in this direction.
One of the specific steps mentioned in this connection relates to the opening up of the deliberations of the Standing Committees to the media. What is your view on this?
As I said earlier, I am yet to look into the details of the proposals on this question. I am planning to talk to leaders of various political parties on this issue in order to evolve a widely acceptable view.
In the past few years, there have been several instances of clashes between legislatures and the judiciary. Many State legislatures and Parliament have been involved in tussles with the judiciary on many issues. How do you look at this phenomenon? Do you think it is necessary to evolve a mechanism to address clashes of this nature?
I am of the view that the Parliament versus judiciary question is essentially a misrepresentation. There can be no struggle between the two constitutional institutions. If there are differences on some matters, they need to be addressed as specific issues. Generalising that there is a perpetual struggle is not right.
But sections of the judiciary have put it on record that a sizable number of people who enter Parliament or State legislatures are criminals trying to run away from the law. These sections have also contended that the influx of such criminals has brought down the responsibility and efficiency quotient of the legislatures, forcing other institutions to take proactive corrective measures. How do you view such depictions of Parliament and the legislatures?
The issue of criminalisation of politics is being addressed by the leadership of all political parties. The Election Commission of India has also initiated a number of effective steps to check this. I am of the view [that] all this is making a positive change, which is bound to reflect in the functioning of Parliament and the legislatures.
In terms of larger political analysis, you are said to represent the Jagjivan Ram legacy of the assimilative and accommodative stream of Dalit-oriented politics. This stream had suffered reverses at the hands of aggressive Dalit assertive politics in the last two decades. Do you think that the former stream will stabilise and sustain itself in the days to come?
Political analysts and journalists are free to make their own interpretation. But if one looks at our countrys history and ethos, it is evident that accommodation and assimilation have always been prominent socio-political streams.
There have been some personal allegations too against you, which has reflected in the judiciary, including one where you have been accused of submitting a false affidavit in a court to usurp family property belonging to your niece
The matter is sub judice and I would not want to make any comments. Property disputes do come up in all families.