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HVK Archives: Balayogi's bio-data is not the issue

Balayogi's bio-data is not the issue - The Indian Express

Neerja Chowdhury ()
March 30, 1998

Title: Balayogi's bio-data is not the issue
Author: Neerja Chowdhury
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: March 30, 1998

A telephone call jangled a thousand raw nerves in Parliament last
week over the Lok Sabha Speaker's election. But for Madanlal
Khurana's Monday-morning call to, P.A.Sangma informing him that
he had the BJP's approval as a consensus candidate, so much
acrimony need not have been generated.

For the BJP to say later that Khurana was not negotiating
officially with the Opposition carries no conviction. Khurana is
the Parliamentary Affairs Minister. if his word is not to be
considered the BJP's "official" voice, then what is? It now
appears that, unaware of Chandrababu Naidu's proposal, Khurana
jumped the gun to win the goodwill of someone he thought would be
the new Speaker. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister has to keep
the Speaker on his right side to manage the House efficiently and
Khurana is in an unenviable position, with battle lines sharply
drawn in the Lok Sabha.

The Speaker's episode has left a bad taste in the Opposition's
mouth and it will now be wary of taking the BJP at its word. This
is hardly a happy position for the ruling party which has to take
the opposition along even if it cobbles together a working
majority. At the same time Opposition leaders, who criticised the
new Speaker through innuendo in speeches meant to felicitate him,
showed a lack of grace. They talked about not having seen
Balayogi's bio-data, about the need for a strong Deputy Speaker.
Surprisingly, even a veteran parliamentarian such as Somnath
Chatterji could not resist saying that "merit" had beep

For the Opposition to take the BJP to task is one thing, but to
make snide remarks about the Speaker in a session meant
specifically to welcome him is quite another. Ghanti Mohana
Chandra Balayogi is undoubtedly inexperienced, having been a
backbencher in the tenth Lok Sabha. He has not had much exposure
to national politics. His plight is akin to Rabri Devi's, who was
catapulted from the kitchen to the chief minister's chair.

But once he has been elected in an open contest, he should be
accepted and respected. Immobilising the House merely to expose
his lack of experience and the BJP's powerplay makes a mockery of
Parliament's functioning. The House, after all, accepts a Prime
Minister or a ruling party once they establish their majority,
even if it comes after a bitter electoral struggle. This is what
democracy is all about. Once he occupies that position,
disrespect to his chair is an insult to Parliament and its
members. The Speaker is empowered to pull up even the Prime

The Opposition's ire is directed at the BJP but the Congress has
itself to blame for the failure of Operation Sangma. It has
highlighted the subterranean power struggle inside the party,
Trusted by all parties including the BJP Sangma could have
emerged as a consensus candidate. But his name got exposure too
early, and counter pressures start to build against anyone whose
name comes to the fore too soon.

Had the Congress not proposed his name, which identified him as
the party's candidate, it would have been easier for others to
accept him. initially, even sections of the United Front were
resentful at being presented with a fait accompli and Jyoti Basu
articulated their reservations. But they came round subsequently.

Being chosen Speaker for the second time by consensus would have
given Sangma a potential Prime-Ministerial profile which many in
his own party would not want him to acquire. He would be waiting
in the wings as a possible UF-Congress choice were the Vajpayee
government to collapse. Sonia Gandhi is unlikely to be accepted
as the leader of a coalition in this Lok Sabha and would be wary
of Sharad Pawar heading such an arrangement. Sangma had her
blessings for Speakership.

The BJP's stakes were very high. Accepting a Congress-UF
candidate for speaker, whose election preceded the vote of
confidence, would have underscored the lack of majority of the
ruling combine . It would have given the government a rickety
start, even if it won the confidence vote three days later.

The TDP struck when its dividends were optimal. Having been
tarred with the BJP brush, it decided it might as well derive the
benefits of aligning with the government in Delhi. Naidu also
faced the threat of a vertical split in his party if he did not
take the decision to bail out the BJP.

The significance of Balayogi's election is that he belongs
neither to the ruling BJP nor to the second largest party nor to
the third force. It is a measure of political fragmentation that
a 12-member party was able to instal its representative in that
position. That he is a Dalit may be incidental to his elevation,
but it is proof of the devolution of power over 50 years. He was
obviously the most experienced of Naidu's men to be elected this
time, and that tells its own story.

The ball is now in the new Speaker's court. His counterpart in
Uttar Pradesh, Kesri Nath Tripathi, has not covered himself with
glory by recognising a party which does not constitute one third
of the parent group. Balayogi's lack of experience will compel
him to rely on the BJP. And yet his success will depend on the
extent to which he is able to detach himself from the ruling
party and be non-partisan. At stake is not just an individual's
performance but the health of a vital organ of parliamentary

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