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State of democracy, religion in politics, China: Parliament’s concerns at special session to mark 50 yrs of freedom

The ongoing special session of Parliament commemorates India’s parliamentary journey of 75 years. The last such special session was in August 1997, when India celebrated 50 years of Independence. I K Gujral was the Prime Minister then, leading a government of the 13-party United Front.

On Independence eve that year, which fell during the Monsoon Session, a special sitting was organised at midnight. Programmes were conducted in the Central Hall of Parliament, with the late Lata Mangeshkar singing Sare Jahan Se Accha. A special guest for the programme was Betty Boothroyd, then the Speaker of House of Commons.

Following this, a special session was held between August 26 and September 1.

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These sittings set several records. A Parliament record of the session notes it was the first time that a special session of the House was convened to deliberate exclusively on a single motion introduced by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was then the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, on “the state of democracy and democratic institutions, economic situation, position of infrastructure, achievements and potential in the field of science and technology and the state of human development in the country”.The House spent 64 hours and 29 minutes discussing it.

While introducing the motion, Vajpayee spoke about “taking stock of the last 50 years”.

A chunk of his speech revolved around “the criminalisation of politics”. “Earlier criminals used to come to us for help, now they come to us to help us. We started taking their help to win elections and to capture polling booths. Now scientific rigging is taking place,” he said.

Vajpayee also touched upon increasing election expenses, asking: “Can we contest and win elections without black money? Perhaps only a few people will come under this category.”

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He went on to suggest a corpus amount in the Budget that could perhaps be utilised by parties for election purposes.

As the floor opened up for discussion, a wide-ranging conversation ensued on a variety of subjects: women’s education, rural development, disarmament, caste, economy, agriculture, foreign policy, among others.

Congress MP Madhavrao Scindia, who represented the Gwalior parliamentary seat, highlighted what he said was the “atomisation” of politics. “We could free ourselves from British rule when respectable Bapuji (Mahatma Gandhi) united the whole nation by rising above the considerations of caste, religion, region and linguistic differences because the nation was united. Unfortunately, atomisation, the process of disintegration has now started. It is necessary to check it. What all is not being done in the name of religion! Maryada Purushottam Ram has also been dragged into politics. As a Hindu I object that our all-pervading religion has been confined into narrow precincts by some parties and elements. I would like to remind those parties and elements that Hindu religion is very liberal,” he said.

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Some other conversations such as territorial integrity, minority rights which still continue to dominate political conversation today were raised in the session.

Veteran socialist leader George Fernandes spoke of national borders saying that “1,19,000 square miles of land is under occupation of China”. “China is asserting its claims over some parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and the north-eastern Sector,” he said.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was then the MP from Barh, spoke of a variety of issues in rural India. “When we reach a village a large number of semi nude and hungry children follow us. On seeing them, we feel frightened as to what would happen to this country? The real picture of the country can only be seen at that time. These children would grow in youth and would be able to produce more children. What would happen to our population then because their face and body reflect poverty in every inch. As we don’t see any scheme for removing that poverty, we are pained to think as to what would happened to this country. How would they arrange their livelihood? What can be done for them? It would be proper if we think over these two points. We should pay more attention on education too.”

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Lok Janshakti Party founder Ram Vilas Paswan, who was then the Railways minister, spoke about religion’s relationship with India. “We talk of religion, but I say that there should be no religion of a country. Some people chant ‘Hindu Rashtra-Hindu Rashtra’ but I never talked of a Hindu Rashtra.”

Speaking of minority treatment, he said: “Dr (A P J Abdul) Kalam has been appointed as the Head of the Department of Science and Technology. What is his religion? We are proud of Sunil Gavaskar in the field of cricket. But are we not proud of Azharuddin? If we remember Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, then do we not remember Maulana Azad? If we remember Mukesh, do we not remember Mohammad Rafi? If we are proud of Lata Mangeskar, are we not proud of Noorjehan?”

Federalism was also talked about fiercely.

The DMK’s N V M Somu, who was the MoS in the Defence Ministry, said the operation of Article 356 — which deals with the proclamation of Emergency — had always been an impediment in the smooth Centre-State relationships. He added that the Article should be done away with.

Kerala MP A Sampath asked: “…What do we see in this country at present? It is the politics of invasion, it is the politics of hegemony, it is the politics of suppression that we see everywhere. Is it not the ill-fate of our country, the malady in our system? Even our national anthem upholds the ideal of ‘unity in diversity’. But what do we see in reality? Is there not a conscious effort to impose language, to impose culture on us? Are we not subjected to a cultural fascism?” He added, “Time has, therefore, come to do away with this provision because nowhere in the world a country which calls itself federal has a similar draconian provision which extinguishes democracy in a State in an arbitrary manner.”

People raised specific issues. BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi spoke about science and technology and the need to invest in research and development, support PhD students, and scale equipment for research.

Independent MP Louis Islary representing the Kokrajhar seat in Assam spoke of a separate state for the Bodos in the state, a demand he said the people has been raising for 28 years.

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T Gopal Krishna, from the Kakinada seat in Andhra Pradesh spoke of reform in forest legislation, highlighting the dwindling of forests to 20% of land area, illegal deforestation, among others.

At the end of the Session, Parliament adopted a resolution to maintain the inviolability of the Question Hour; refrain from transgressing into the official areas of the House, or from any shouting of slogans, and, in variably desisting from any efforts at interruptions or interference with the address of the President of the Republic.

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The resolution also spoke about a national campaign to combat economically unsustainable growth of population, adding that education at all levels be made employment-relevant, special attention being given to quality; that achievement of the constitutional mandate of universalisation of elementary education be closely monitored; and spoke of strengthening economic development, gender justice, science and technology.

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