Lok Sabha’s New Ringmaster: Can the Speaker Tame Modi’s Political Circus?

As Modi's third term begins with muted fanfare, a high-stakes political chess game unfolds over the coveted Speaker's chair, with allies wary of BJP's 'Operation Lotus' and the opposition eyeing the Deputy Speaker's role in a coalition-era Lok Sabha.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The oath-taking of Narendra Modi’s third term as Prime Minister in a coalition government was met with minimal enthusiasm and anticipation from the general population, in contrast to his previous two inaugurals. Even during the event, Shivraj Singh, the ex-Chief Minister of the State of Madhya Pradesh, received the loudest cheer. Modi’s supporters and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) members were observed bursting crackers in most neighborhoods in India, much to the bewilderment of others.  

The portfolio distribution, a critical component of government formation, is anxiously awaited. This is primarily due to the fact that this is not a government that is dominated by the BJP. This coalition government is composed of numerous allies. In the past, the BJP wielded an overwhelming majority, with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in control of all ministries and appointments. This time, the cabinet positions are also being discussed.   

The Speaker’s post is taking center stage. This role, crucial in the political horse-trading in the lower house (Lok Sabha) of the Indian Parliament, holds the potential to significantly influence the political landscape. Modi’s previous two terms were marked with the controversial ‘Operation Lotus,’ a strategy that involved poaching elected opposition members using the Chanakya script Saam (Conciliation –  Negotiation and diplomacy), Daam (Gift/Material inducement – Offering incentives or rewards), Dand (Punishment – Using force or threats of force) and Bhed (Sowing Discord).

Speaking of Dandh, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), and Income Tax Department are the favorite tools to intimidate the opposition. This also makes the Home and Finance Ministry important. But it is ultimately the Speaker’s role to decide the horse trading outcomes.

It is the responsibility of the Speaker to ensure that order and discipline are maintained. This has the potential to have an indirect impact on political horse-trading efforts. Here’s how:

1. Anti-Defection Law: The provisions of the Anti-Defection Law, which can be found in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, are the responsibility of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Legislators are disqualified from their positions under this rule if they willingly give up their party membership or vote against the whip of their party. This law is intended to deter legislators from switching parties. When it comes to problems of this nature, the decision made by the Speaker is final.

2. Keeping the House in Order: The Speaker is responsible for ensuring that debates are handled in an orderly manner, thereby preventing disturbances that could result in negotiations behind closed doors or undue influence.

3. Scheduling Debates: The Speaker is responsible for determining the agenda and the order in which discussions will take place. The ability of the Speaker to limit chances for political maneuvering can be achieved by giving priority to critical subjects.

4. Recognizing Members: The Speaker is the one who decides which members are allowed to speak and for how long. Instead of engaging in political posturing, those who possess this power can utilize it to give voice to causes.

5. Rule Interpretation: The Speaker is responsible for providing interpretations of parliamentary rules and procedures. The use of procedures for political benefit can be avoided by the application of fair interpretation.

However, it is essential to keep in mind that although the Speaker’s position is intended to be unbiased and independent of party politics, in actuality, the effectiveness of the position is contingent on the integrity of the individual Speaker as well as the situation in the political atmosphere. The activities of the Speaker have the potential to impact political horse-trading, but they do not entirely control it.

BJP allies in the coalition government, especially the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by Chandrababu Naidu and Janta Dal United (JD(U) led by Nitish Kumar, are wary of BJP poaching their members. If they do not totally switch sides, they can help pass legislation these allies are opposed to. BJP and its two mentioned allies are at odds on the issue of religion and divisive politics. These allies have a good number of non-Hindu and Minority voters. BJP is known for its hardline Hindutva politics. There are many other nonreligion-based issues, too, where they are at odds. It remains to be seen which side dominates in the coalition government.

The two allies and the BJP are attempting to install speakers from their respective organizations. The opposition is not far behind. They are betting on the post of Deputy Speaker.

Along with being a significant position in the Indian parliamentary system, the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha is also a position of significance. The Deputy Speaker is responsible for the following major parts of the role:

1. Presiding in Speaker’s Absence: The major responsibility of the Deputy Speaker is to preside over the sessions of the Lok Sabha when the Speaker is absent. In practise, Speaker is frequently gone.

2. The powers of the Speaker: The Deputy Speaker has the same powers as the Speaker when they are presiding. These rights include maintaining order, conducting debates, and making judgments about procedural concerns.

3. Panel of Chairpersons: The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are both members of the Panel of Chairpersons. In the event that neither the Speaker nor the Deputy Speaker are present, then members of this panel have the authority to preside over the house.

4. Independence: In the same way that the Speaker is supposed to behave impartially and independently of party politics, the Deputy Speaker is also expected to take this responsibility.

5. Constitutional Provision: The office of the Deputy Speaker is outlined in Article 93 of the Indian Constitution, which highlights the fundamental significance of this position.

6. Election: The members of the Lok Sabha vote for the Deputy Speaker from among themselves, typically after the election of the Speaker. This election takes place after the Speaker has been chosen.

Even though the Speaker is the most powerful person in the Lok Sabha, the Deputy Speaker plays a very important part in ensuring that the house continues to operate consistently and without any interruptions, particularly when the Speaker is absent. The post is associated with tremendous respect and responsibility.

In the parliamentary system, it is common practice to avoid overturning a decision made by the chair. This is done to preserve the chair’s dignity and authority. On the other hand, a Speaker has the ability to challenge or overturn decisions that the Deputy Speaker made. If the Speaker deems a choice to be incorrect or in disagreement with the rules, he or she can offer direction for future circumstances.

TDP appears to be the most adamant for the Speaker post. The party may be willing to agree with the BJP candidate if the BJP is able to address its worries about the horse trade. As a result, Daggubati Purandeswari, the member of parliament for Rajahmundry and the president of the BJP in Andhra Pradesh, is making rounds. She hails from TDP’s home state and she is the daughter of the party’s founder, NT Rama Rao. Naidu’s wife and she are sisters.

It is possible that the celebrations would not be as loud as the crackers that supporters of Narendra Modi exploded after the Speaker is appointed. It is possible that the Lok Sabha will be the most prominent voice in the Indian democracy if it gets a Speaker in the true sense.


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