Speaker Sir, Do not lash the Whip

By Prabhakar Timble
28 January 2011 17:45 IST

There does not appear to be any instance in India’s parliamentary history wherein the Speaker has taken the authority of summoning the members of the House belonging to a specific political party to decide on the leader or whip of that political party in the legislature. The Speaker could be only a registering authority in this regard and should not convert the Chair into a quasi-judicial authority. The recent direction by the Speaker of the Goa Assembly to the three MLAs of the NCP to provide answers to a list of preliminary questions would not establish a precedent. At the most, it could be buried as an exception.

As a convention, what counts in the legislature are only the two leaders i.e. the Leader of the majority political party or the ruling coalition and the leader of the single largest opposition party. There appears to be recognition for these two leaders in the conduct of business of the House. All other political parties may nominate their leaders but it does not appear to be consequential, since precedents require that to be recognised as a group belonging to a political party, the strength of the MLAs should be at least 10% of the strength of the Assembly. However, such outfits can remain as an unrecognised group.  

In the instant case in Goa, where in the NCP has communicated to the Speaker of the change in the leader and Whip of the party, I find that the Speaker is overstepping the laid down boundaries. First of all, there are no aggrieved parties or legislators. If there is one, none has petitioned to the Speaker. The letter sent to the Speaker communicating the change in the leader of the legislature party  and Whip is sent by the President  or authorised office-bearer of the political party to the Speaker. No dispute is referred to the Speaker. And even if the legislators are aggrieved over this decision by their political party, the forum for redress is not the Office of the Speaker.  There is no need for the Speaker to read dispute into the matter, though it is a common inference that the letter from the NCP leadership for change in the leader or whip of the NCP legislature group is to checkmate likely political damage to the party. There are definitely some tremors within the ruling coalition, maybe requiring a political redress.

Secondly, a Whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are party 'enforcers', who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy. A whip's role is also to ensure that the elected representatives of their party are in attendance when important votes are taken. I would say, the Speaker should refrain from being a supervisor or monitor in the matter of nomination of the Whip by a political party.

Thirdly,   just for the sake of argument,  if the BJP leadership communicates to the Speaker a change in the name of their leader and Whip in the legislature, would the Speaker slap a notice on all the BJP legislators,  summon them and provide the same opportunity? And would the Speaker take the mantle of ruling on multiple and conflicting views and grievances, if any?

Fourthly, it is not correct to assume that the Whip of a political party   is elected by the legislators of that political party.  In ideal democratic ethics and spirit, the Whip would be chosen by the elected members of the political party is a totally different matter. The leader of the Legislative party is normally chosen at a meeting of the party MLAs at the instance of the political party. The chief whip of the legislative party is decided by the political party.

Fifthly, the claim that the Speaker’s ruling is final and cannot be questioned in Courts is unfounded. The Speaker is an officer of the House. He cannot arrogate to himself the powers and functions of a political party and act in a manner so as to interfere with the rights of the political parties. The activist role of the Speaker   is unwarranted.

 

Such acts will make Speakers politically controversial, not that many of them are not. In Goa, around five petitions are pending before the Speaker. With due respect to the Speaker and the privileges entitled, keeping quasi-judicial matters pending, itself amounts to a decision and is an indirect interference with the freedom of legislators since the perception is that the sword is kept hanging to strike at inconvenient times.

I do not think the Speaker should get into the process of how either the leader or whip is chosen by a political party and create any   bad precedents in this regard. There is no mention of the procedure to nominate the Whip in the Indian constitution. This means it was left to either the political  party  or the legislature wing of the political party to decide the course and methodology.

As no dispute or petition is before the Speaker, the servant of the Assembly should refrain from passing any orders. The Speaker’s Secretariat should only register the communication of the political party. Even assuming   a wrong is being committed by a political party in nominating the leader of the political party and the Whip in the legislature, it is definitely not for the Speaker to apply the whitener to erase or rectify. A dispute if any, would be one between the party MLAs and the political party. There is no need for the Speaker to iron out the creases. Political games played by political parties should not create precedents in the premier house of the State.

 

Blogger's Profile

Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

With the new trend of pre-poll alliances and coalition politics, what could have automatically taken place is the individual component of original party to be a non-entity and of no consequence and the whip re-defined in the hands of the ruling group.

The speaker is just an umpire in the case and cannot enforce his views just as many time heard as saying in the house, "I cannot force the government" when other members want him to decide. There cannot be two yardsticks.

In the case of a father and son situation, if the father is the speaker and also party member, it is obvious on whose side he will tend to rule.

- Ludovico, Old-Goa | 31 st January 2011 16:35

 

When the speaker is selected by majority from the ruling party - he would definitely be inclined to save the Govt when the need arises. How can one blame the speaker for his rulings if they favour the ruling party?

A speaker needs to be apolitical with good reputation and legal background if he is expected to give unbiased decisions.

The present parliamentary system finds itself in such awkward situations time and again as the Architects of the Indian Constitution might never had anticipated such people to get elected and represent the people of India --where the service to people remained as a pretext to grab the chairs and then work to collect wealth for their next ten generations........

Tunisia and Egypt should serve as a strong warning for all those unscrupulous elements to show improvements or the time is not far off when the masses may come to the streets............

The purpose of legislations should never be to exploit the masses and benefit a few selfish or a means to collect bribe-as is seen in the mining, casinos, town and country planning, land conversions, land acquisition etc......etc....

- vishwas prabhudesai, loliem | 31 st January 2011 16:29

 

The only option to avoid all this is to make speaker's post a non political. Select speaker from the cadre of judges or someone who is impartial.

Pratapsingh Rane has already stooped down to the lowest level by not deciding on several disqualification petitions.

- rupesh Samant, Panaji | 31 st January 2011 12:32

 

Dear Sir,

Our experienced speaker lost all his morality when conducting the job of speaker as he follows his high command and local dictat. If opposition parties had any chance there he should be relieved of his post. he is in his last days of politics let him enjoy at the cost of opposition when some old guards will not be elected for their wrong doing in the next elections

IF goa have to survive it requires clean govt to give good governance and not to support criminals and drug dealers.

i hope he goes thru your column and understand teh rules.

- domnic zeferino, bahrain | 30 th January 2011 11:29

 

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