MPs in bondage

Published June 11, 2022
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

MAKING his support for an anti-child marriage law clear in 1929, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said: “… [I]f my constituency is so backward as to disapprove of a measure like this then I say, the clearest duty on my part would be to say to my constituency, ‘You had better ask somebody else to represent you’. Because, after all, you must remember that public opinion is not so fully developed in this country, and if we are going to allow ourselves to be influenced by the public opinion that can be created in the name of religion when we know that religion has nothing whatever to do with the matter, I think we must have the courage to say, ‘No, we are not going to be frightened by that’.”

Jinnah had drunk deep at the fount of British parliamentary practice and was, doubtless, familiar with Edmund Burke’s famous speech at Bristol to his voters on Nov 3, 1774. “Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all … to prefer their interest to his own.

“But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These, he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

He said further: “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

Lawmakers are prevented or ‘protected’ from seduction by their political opponents.

“You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

“If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form a hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end my life: a flatterer you do not wish for.”

In the last 40 years, there has developed in India a practice unknown to and contrary to accepted rules of parliamentary practices. It is to round up MLAs or MPs on the eve of a motion of no-confidence or similar motion; put them in a luxury bus and transport them to a four-star hotel in a luxury resort in the capital of the state or the capital of the country. This is to prevent them or ‘protect’ them from seduction by the opponents.

This flouts the very foundations of democratic parliamentary system. A legislator is entitled to freedom of movement all over the world, freedom of access to political life; to persons; to his family. This is arrest and detention without the authority of law. It is a violation of the fundamental rights. The legislator is removed from family, friends and society.

It all began in the 1980s when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi toppled three governments in a row — Kashmir, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh. All proved futile.

The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, a former actor, N.T. Rama Rao was opposed to prime minister Indira Gandhi. But he was able to stage a comeback only to face a motion of no-confidence. That was when his friend Ramakrishna Hegde, chief minister of the neighbouring state of Karnataka decided to act. He spoke to N.T. Rama Rao and invited all his MLAs to a picnic in Karnataka as his guest. They were sent back, duly feted, on the eve of the motion of no-confidence in Andhra Pradesh, N.T.R. won.

This week when Conservative British MPs were free to vote massively against their leader Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Maharashtra’s ruling party MLAs were having a jolly good time at a five-star hotel far from the capital. Political virginity survived inviolate.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2022

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