The Parliament of India is a sacred space as it symbolises the faith of more than a billion people in an idea called ‘Democracy’. As an institution, the parliament must inspire not only confidence among the teeming masses of India but should also serve as a lighthouse of wisdom and prescient knowledge. A parliamentarian regardless of the narrow identities of gender, class, caste or geography must voice the concerns of the people. In doing so, a parliamentarian should be driven only by the interest and welfare of the people. On the floor of the house, a parliamentarian has every right to disagree and dissent. A parliamentarian should also be aware of the dignity and grand aura of the house and must make a sincere attempt to preserve the same. Above everything else, parliament is a place to reach a consensus on contentious issues of law and governance.
The Constitution of India,1950 acknowledges the vital role of a parliamentarian in nurturing democratic ideals and values. Article 105 (1) of the Constitution specifically provides that there shall be freedom of speech in parliament. Of course, it is subject to rules of procedure of the House.
Article 105(2) extends immunity to members of parliament from any proceeding in a court of law for anything said or done in the parliament. It is quite interesting to note that Article 19(1)(a) already guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all citizens subject to certain restrictions. The makers of the Constitution still thought it fit to separately acknowledge the freedom of speech for parliamentarians for the efficient functioning of the parliament. They gave credence to the speech exchanged within the hallowed portals of parliament.
Privileges for parliamentarians are thus, comprehensive in character. Doubts have often been raised by constitutional scholars over the broad-based nature of parliamentary privileges modelled on British House of Commons. In the MSM Sharma case(famously known as Searchlight case),while analysing the privileges of parliamentarians in states as provided under Article 194 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of India gave precedence to parliamentary privileges and indicted the editor of “Searchlight” for publishing expunged portions of speech of parliamentarian Maheshwar Prasad Narayan Sinha in Bihar legislative assembly.
In her iconic speech, member of parliament, Mahua Moitra drew attention to the existing political state of affairs in the country and compared it to early signs of fascism extolled in a poster from the Holocaust Museum. This poster was apparently created by the political scientist Dr Laurence W. Brit and it points out 14 signs of early fascism from which she discussed seven signs in parliament.
According to her, the democratic and secular fabric of the nation is under threat and she sought to highlight certain tendencies negating these values. She prepared her speech with a liberal offering of quality literature and poetic flourish. She even quoted from celebrated Hindi literary icon, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. Further, she tempered her speech by evoking the grand vision and ideals enshrined in the Constitution of India,1950. A speech stands out for the uniqueness which it carries. Now in response to seemingly misguided criticism and reporting of plagiarism in her speech, she has moved a breach of privilege motion in parliament.
It is timely to recall that some of the finest speeches in human history have been delivered against the rising tide of majoritarianism, narrow sectarian beliefs and entrenched societal prejudices. Abraham Lincoln, for example, a revered figure in America, despite criticism and opposition spoke these now famous lines in his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 -“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.“.
Another notable speech stands out in history. It was delivered by the champion of ‘civil rights movement’, Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States of America on August 23, 1963, where he poignantly said:
“…….I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He spoke in the context of racial segregation in America. These speeches resonate inside America and beyond for the courage of conviction and lofty ideals proposed in them.
We recall with fondness many speeches given by our own national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar and Ram Manohar Lohia among others. On 25th of November,1949 in his now famous “Grammar of Anarchy” speech, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar had observed-“…..If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution.” The speech is very much relevant even now. In recent past,in May 1996 the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee had said while addressing the House-“We assure you that till the time the work that we started with our bare hands in national interest is not completed, we shall not rest.” He had emphasised that governments will come and go but nation must stand tall.
For anyone, these speeches are apt examples of excellent oratory laced with ready wit, sarcasm, measured anger, courage, sharp observation and pleasant repartees. Mahua Moitra’s speech stands out for courage and conviction. It attempted to put the spotlight on impending and underlying dangers to the body politic of the nation and as a voice coming from the opposition, it deserved a patient hearing. She struck a genuine dissent note in parliament and one may agree or disagree with her but it will be below the dignity of political leaders, their followers or any rational being to muffle her voice by misplaced allegations of plagiarism. Reportedly, she quoted her source of reference.
For a change, her speech came as a breath of fresh air. In the past, the grand institution of parliament has suffered damage due to unruly conduct of parliamentarians. MP Mahua Moitra’s speech was filled with exuberance and dignified expression of anger. If at all she has to be criticised, it should be on sound logic and reasoning. Attempts to discredit her quality speech seem misplaced and a sham. It is time to encourage such fine oratory skills in parliament and outside. She has set the ball rolling for a healthy discourse to take shape over time in parliament. Her detractors and critics should stop complaining and for once congratulate her and emulate the good in this lady parliamentarian.
In fact, as citizens of Indians, we should all stand up and just applaud the moment!