New Delhi, Apr 6 : Now that the incumbent Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has announced her decision - and so openly - that she will not contest this year's elections only adds yet another episode to controversy revolving around senior BJP leaders.
It is worthwhile mentioning that BJP veterans L K Advani and M M Joshi along with Shanta Kumar, B C Khanduri, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, Kalraj Mishra and Karia Munda have been also denied tickets for the Lok Sabha polls this year.
In the process, however, Ms Mahajan also joins some of her predecessors who had courted controversies during their stints as presiding officer(s) of the lower House of Parliament. "Legislature proceedings can be smooth if the presiding officer is able to inspire confidence in the Opposition party as much as in the ruling party — confidence in one's fairness and objectivity has to be commanded, not demanded,' Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee had written in 2006 in his missive to the then Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
The country's only communist Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee had his share of controversies both in the House and outside. In 2008, he declined to resign in defiance of diktats from CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat and was later expelled.
Late Chatterjee, who never failed to take high moral ground, was also accused of being partisan. None other than the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had flayed the veteran Marxist and BJP also boycotted monsoon session in 2006. Lok Sabha also witnessed acrimony between Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and the CPI-M members on July 22, 2008 trial of strength debate.
A 'bitter exchange' took place when CPI-M's Mohammad Salim, the first Left representative to speak on the motion, was about to begin his speech. Amid uproar in the House, CPI-M's floor leader Basudeb Acharia made a plea to the Speaker to bring the House to order. The remark had angered the Speaker, who immediately shot back: "You tell me how to go about it. You can come and sit here and do it yourself."
Mr Salim and others later also felt the Speaker was possibly wrong in allowing the 'voting' on the fateful day as hours before two BJP members displayed currency allegedly given to them by the government interlocutors.
Controversies have hit Speakers such as Balram Jakhar, Shivraj Patil and Meira Kumar too. In 2015, Ms Mahajan was alleged of being partisan and at one point, one Congress MP has said - “How can a minister give a statement five times on the same issue. Why did you allow the minister to give the statement when she had already made interventions earlier". The issue had figured during Congress president Rahul Gandhi's charges on the Food park in Amethi and the responses from Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal. In August 2015, Speaker also suspended 25 Congress members and also MPs from AIADMK at later stage.
Ms Mahajan will be also remembered as the first woman MP to win a record eight consecutive elections. CPI leader Geeta Mukherjee had won Panskura Lok Sabha seat seven times in West Bengal between 1980 and 2000. In 1980s, the stint of Balram Jakhar as Speaker was marked by a major row when he had allowed the 'death' of Devi Lal's grand daughter-in-law (Supriya) to be discussed in the House. So much perturbed was the 'Tau' that he vowed to contest elections against Jakhar in latter's bastion Sikar in Rajasthan and was also successful in defeating him. Socialist leaders, however, say the performance of Rabi Ray, the Speaker of the 9th Lok Sabha when V P Singh led the country's first coalition government with outside support from the Left parties and the BJP, was very crucial.
"Rabi Ray handled things in his matured and dignified manner than none could complain," one BJD leader said. Meira Kumar's tenure was also marred by controversies like allowing Congress member Rahul Gandhi make a 'lengthy' zero hour speech on the Anna Hazare-led agitation on Lokpal in 2011. The then Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj took a dig: "zero hour mein aap rashtra ke naam sandesh nahi dete (that you don't make a national broadcast of your speech during zero hour)". Under the Rule 377 of Lok Sabha, 'zero hour' allows members to raise matters of public importance and make a brief reference only. Meira Kumar also came under criticism for "not accepting" the resignation of the then 12 Congress
MPs from Andhra Pradesh (then Telengana region) as perhaps letting the MPs give up their membership could have reduced the Manmohan Singh ministry into a minority.
When a section of media criticised the Speaker, the matter was dragged into the privilege committee also. In the 10th Lok Sabha, Shivraj Patil amid some controversies on the 'absence' of a JMM MP once threw the entire House into laughter when he addressed veteran Jaswant Singh as "arey baba". The senior BJP member had countered it in a modest manner, saying, "I am not baba sir....there must be something wrong in me sir that you are calling me one". Mr Patil was in the midst of row on the disqualification of some Janata Dal members for 'defecting'.
In one case, when Ajit Singh and 20 others walked away from Janata Dal, Shivraj Patil took nine months to pronounce his ruling and in another case he took two years.
The delay in both instances helped Rao government which allowed 'transformation' of minority P V Narasimha Rao government into a majority. A soft spoken Shivraj Patil is - however - credited for steering the parliamentary movement to establish Parliamentary Standing Committee system in the 10th Lok Sabha, say senior lawmakers. The tenure of P A Sangma did not have much controversy as the northeastern MP used his 'gifted sense of humour and the sagacity', as Narasimha Rao had said once, to conduct the proceedings in the 11th Lok Sabha wherein there were two coalition governments headed by H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral. (UNI)