Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji, Respected Leader of the House Shri ArunJaitely, Respected Leader of the Opposition Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Hon’ble Deputy Chairman Sri PJ Kurien, Hon’ble Ministers and distinguished Members of the august House !
When I first entered this august house as a Member in 1998, I never had even the faintest of the idea that one day I would have the honour of presiding over as its Chairperson. This is the beauty and majesty of our Parliamentary democracy and its strength as well. It can lift a commoner like me to such an exalted position and offer opportunities to discharge onerous responsibilities that go with this position.
I am from a small village, son of a farmer. Even now fond of agriculture, because the basic ‘culture’ of India is ‘agriculture’. I feel proud that I am an agriculturist. From there I had a long journey, you are all aware of it. And finally, in spite of my humble background I don’t have any.., even I lost my mother and father at a very young age. I lost my mother at the age of one year three months or four months. I can’t even recollect my mother’s face. But keeping in view the responsibilities that has cost upon me various levels, I tried to do my best and finally you people, Members of Parliament of both the houses been kind enough to elect me as the Vice President of India. I feel really humbled by the honour given to me. I have also been given the responsibility of presiding over this house, Vice President, and assisting the President and performing the constitutional responsibilities, and also presiding over the august house, the upper house.
I am grateful to all the concerned for reposing faith and confidence in me and entrusting such responsibility to me. No more party talks now. Which party has supported me, which party has not supported me, not an issue, it is over now. Now I am an all party man, above party politics. I will be a person above politics, and then I will try to see that this house is functional. Every one of you get an opportunity and small or big is not the issue but only thing is every body follows the rules and regulations or the procedures, then everybody will definitely get an opportunity.
Before I elaborate on my thoughts as the Chairperson of this august House, I would like to briefly reflect on the origin and the role of this federal chamber of Parliament of India. With its roots in the Monteague-Chemlsford Report of 1918, the Council of States first came into being in 1921 further to the Government of India Act, 1919, as a second chamber of the then legislature with a restricted franchise.
Subsequently, there were extensive debates on the need for this House in the Constituent Assembly. It was considered that a single directly elected House would be inadequate to meet the challenges before free India. Accordingly, ‘Council of States’ was created as a federal chamber i.e House elected by elected members. An element of dignity and prestige was accorded to this chamber by making the Vice-President of India the Ex-Officio Chairman of the House.
The learned members of the Constituent Assembly envisaged this chamber as a ‘House of reflective and evaluative reasoning’. Late Shri N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar termed it as a ‘House which can rein in passions of the moment’. Late Shri Loknath Mishra described it as a ‘sobering House, a reviewing House, a House standing for quality and the members will exercise their right to be heard on the merit of what they say, for their sobriety and knowledge of special problems.”
This House of Elders is meant to ensure federal equilibrium and equanimity in legislation. A provision has also been made to nominate a good number of knowledgeable persons from different walks of life to further enrich the debates. This House is also expected to protect the interests of the States in the federal scheme of things.
This goes to prove that this august House has a clear mandate to perform provided the members do not desire, even if unintentionally, to reduce its role to that of a superfluous and irrelevant one, as is already being referred to in some quarters, in a muted manner. It’s a choice in the hands of the honourble members.
Honourble Members !
As the world’s largest democracy and fastest growing economy, our country needs efficient and effective legislation to administer its processes, mobilize resources, build partnerships, ensure socio-economic equality etc. The entire world economy is slowing down. Even our neighbor, which is a powerful economy, is going towards negative. We are fortunate, we are one country India, that is Bharat which is moving forward and which has got a bright future.
Hon’ble Members, time is not on our side. Even after seventy years of Independence, we are grappling with basic issues of poverty, illiteracy, inequality, agrarian and rural development challenges, abuse of power etc, even as some countries similarly placed at the time of our attaining freedom, are marching ahead with a lot more focus and a sense of urgency, marshalling their energies in a much better manner. So keeping these challenged in mind we must come together, work together and then try to take the country forward.
For the success of an individual, institution or a nation, time management is crucial. We don’t have the luxury of time. We need to make up for the lost opportunities over the last seven decades, if our country were to realize its full potential, given its huge stock of human and natural resources and other advantages. We have a great human resource, have a great intellect and a great culture and heritage bestowed upon us by our forefathers.
This august House meets for much less than a hundred days per year. Should the honourable members not make the best use of this available time in furtherance of the cause of our country and the people? The choice is to be made by the enlightened Members.
We take pride in our diversity and the unity that flows from it. If that be the case, can’t we be united in the pursuit of common national goals and in enabling the Young India realize its aspirations? Our democratic polity allows flourishing of different ideas and thoughts on a range of socio-economic issues. But adversarial politics should not be allowed to adversely impact the functioning of Parliament which in turn impacts the progress of our nation.
We are all Indians. We are all working for the betterment of India in our sphere of activity according to the principles in which we believe. We may belong to different parties, but our common aim is to strengthen India, make India stable and strong and prosperous to see the development reach the man in the last line. What you call antyodaya, uplifting the poorest of the poor.
In a political democracy is a sacred instrument for pursuit of national interests. But a fractious polity, finding its echo in the legislatures impedes the forward march of our country and the people. No chamber of our Parliamentary democracy can be allowed to be an extension of such fractious polity.
We are only rivals. I firmly believe, I am speaking from my heart my friends, honourable members, we are all political rivals, we are not enemies. As I said, each one according to belief is working hard, pursuing his own political thought and process to strengthen the country to help the people. So, keeping this in mind, we much act together, we must come together, we must discuss. Yesterday I, I can share with you, I had an occasion to go and meet the out-going President, honourable Shri Pranab Mukherjee, one of the most senior politicians, and statesman of the country and he told me, what he said earlier, and I repeat ‘Parliament should discuss, debate, decide. Not the last ‘D’. It is very easy to say, but at the same time, it is not impossible to implement also. Keeping this in mind I hope everybody understands.
Every election gives the winner a mandate and the opposition, the responsibility of ensuring accountability of the executive. I have been in opposition for a long time. The rumoring party has the power. The opposition must have its say. But at the end of the day, the democracy says, the opposition must have its say and the government must have its way. Because it is as per the mandate of the people. And all of us must respect the mandate of the people.
Friends, democracy is not only about numbers, but also understand and appreciate each other’s point of view. It does not necessarily mean that we reduce the functioning of our legislatures to a mere numbers game. The play of numbers should stop with the formation of governments and thereafter, it should be resorted to only in the rarest of the rare cases. As just now the leader of the opposition was mentioning earlier, even the other senior members were saying, when we function, when we discuss we discuss in depth and also we always offer an enlightened debate better than others. That has the general feeling. But only issue is we must discuss, we must debate and then we must decide. Then we will be able to deliver best. This is my request to all of you. The play of numbers should stopped with the formation of the government and thereafter it should be resorted only in the rare of the rarest case. An emerging economy like ours should be guided more by a shared destiny in the functioning of our legislatures. More and more discussion, referring it to the committees, and then discuss in the committee goes beyond party lines, I myself was Chairman of committees, Home Committee, I was Chairman for five years. Even on important issues, tricky issues, at the end of the day we used to come to some common understanding. As there is no media, there is no others, they used to speak out of their hearts and they used to believe and used to appreciate and understand each others point of view. That’s why, the historic land boundary agreement, by both houses of Parliament, and the historic GST Bill, and even the historic legislations being passed over the ears, not only during this regime, in the earlier regimes also were the products of the correct wisdom of both the houses of Parliament. That was after a meaningful debate.
Honourable Members !
All that the people of our country desires is that the Parliament should be the voice of sanity echoing their concerns and finding solutions to their problems as the best way forward. Over the years, both the Houses of Parliament have done a reasonably good job. But somehow there is a growing concern and resentment among the people over our functioning. As a Parliamentary Affairs Minister I used to go and meet the Media at the end of the session and then outline how many legislations were approved, how many hours we sat, how we made up the loss of time etc. But at the same time, as some of the members were suggesting, from the back benches or some of so called parties the time that is available, if you are able to utilize the full time, you have enough time. If you spend time in the procedural angles, then the time that we have lost, that we lost to the smaller parties and ordinary members. So keeping it in my mind I will try to do my best to see that everyone gets their right and their due also while debate takes place.
All that is needed is an attitude of give and take on the part of both the sides. This is possible through strategizing for effective functioning of the House rather than for its disruption. This needs an enlightened approach on the part of all concerned. I always say, let the government propose, let the opposition oppose, let the house dispose, either way, this way or that way.
Unfortunately, obstruction and disruption of the proceedings is increasingly being chosen as the first parliamentary option in our legislatures across the country. I don’t want to dwell on that. But the country men disollutions sometimes. And they see because the live coverage is there and they see what is happening, they get dissolution. We must understand their feelings. And now we are in an inspirational India. India is going forward. The younger generation is more and more interest in the public affairs of the country. Keeping them in mind, their aspirations, we must live up to their expectations. The school children look to legislature, the legislature look to parliament, and the people in general, in other countries, they all look to Indian democracy, because we are the finest Parliamentary Democracy in the world.
So friends, what I say is that, let us utilize the time that available in an effective manner. I will be more than happy if you all come together, and the government also is willing to extend the timings of the house, I will be more than happy to welcome it. I can only impress upon the government provided that the time is already available, if it is spent meaningfully, constructively, then we can plead our case, make a request suggest to the government to extend the session time. When you are not able to utilize the time that is already been made available to you, then going and asking that will not have any rational and it will not be appreciated.
So, I hope in coming day we will be able to put our best efforts together and the way enforcing the executive by the opposition to engage the government and corner them in an informal debate. I have experience in legislature. Shri Kesava Rao was mentioning about it also. Shri Subbirami Reddy and others know, I was very bitter critic. But at the same time I never used to cross the line. We enjoyed it also, as an opposition. The best part of my legislative life is the time when I was in opposition. Because, we had a constructive debate and we used to score points and we used to feel happy.
At this juncture, I also have an advise to the media, as the Chairman of this house, as a custodian of this house, the Media also should report the constructive debate that takes place in the house. Members come prepared. They make very valuable contribution. There have a lot of good references. But unfortunately, the Media is only giving weightage to sensationalism, to negativism, to controversies, and to dramatics rather than realistic attitude. I have a suggestion to the Media, Media is free in an Independent India, I can’t direct them. But the only thing is I can convey to them from this Chair, in the beginning of my tenure, please focus more on constructive debate.
I want to share with each one of you, when I came to this house, I was asked to speak on agriculture, which is my favorite subject. I prepared myself, went to library, gone through Swaminathan Commission Recommendation, gone through so many reports, Acharya Ranga the great agricultural reformer and all, and after a lot of effort and preparation, the Chairman was kind enough, I was given 52 minutes of time. At that time the party I belong, the party had a substantial time. Everybody came to me, even Swaminathan ji himself and Sharad Pawar ji, Ramgopal Yadav ji, Raja and all, they complimented for my speech. Next day to my disappointment, there was no mention, except one paper Mr. Venkaiah Naidu spoke elaborately on agricultural problems. There was a heart-burning among the members. You report what is happening here. I am not saying. I have no right to adivse you that way. But at the same time report, but also is positively happening in the house. What is being constructively debated, that is the sacred duty of the media also. I thought, I should give this advise from the Chair to the friends from the media also. Because, mere sensationalism alone is not going to be a deadline. The main line is thinking of the Parliamentarians and the collective decision of the Parliamentarians. That is the main line, that has to be taken care
As a member of this august House for 19 years, and most of it as opposition member, I am aware of the sensitivities of both the sides of the House, the Rules of Business, the rights and privileges of the honourable members, the feelings and even frustrations on some occasions.
I am also conscious that eminent persons like Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Justice Hidayatullah, Shri R. Venkataraman, Dr. Shakar Dayal Sharma, Shri K.R. Narayanan, Shri Bhairon Singh Shekawat and others had presided over the proceedings of this august House with distinction. We are also been fortunate to observe Shri Hamid Ansari, the outgoing Vice President who had a diplomatic career who conducted this house. My immediate predecessor Shri Hamid Ansari did so for ten years. It shall be my endeavor to uphold the traditions and standards set by these worthy people. I am also happy to have an able and experienced colleague and deputy, Shri P.J. Kurien. Because I have seen him, taking most of the suffering from the Chair. At the same time normally not loosing cool and maintaining balance.
All that I would like to appeal to the honourble members on this occasion is that keep in mind the poorest of the poor who is wanting to be recognized, the poorest of the poor of the country. They need to be recognized. Their voice has to be heard. Their aspirations have to be understood and they have to be met. That should be upper most in our mind. And they should not be deprived of their rightful opportunity which is guaranteed under the Constitution which is a part of our Parliamentary democracy.
Friends, Let us be guided by the shining principles of our Constitution, the ideals of freedom struggle, the noble thoughts of great souls like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar and all other leaders who gave their sweat and blood for bringing our country this far. Always be reminded of the great speeches made by great leaders. As a legislator I used to go to Library and read what Inderjeet Gupta ji has said, what Bhupesh Gupta ji has said, what Nathpai ji has said, what Vajpai ji has said, what Pilu Modi has said, what Minu Mosaria has said, what Acharya Ranga has said. In the Assembly what Tenneti Viswanatham has said, what Goutu Lachanna has said, what are used to be the great speeches of Anna of Tamil Nadu, these things I keenly observe that really brought me to this place. I am sharing with you, I am opening my mind and sharing with you. Otherwise I have no support of dynasty, I come from a very humble family and from there to reach here, was one is hard work and second is study. I request upon all the members, many seniors here, of course we are missing Sitaram Yechuriji, one of the senior most members of this house, very experience and knowledgeable person with different ideology, that is the beauty of democracy.
So friends, we must all work hard to get the due place in the comity of nations and ensure smile on the face of every citizen. Let us be guided by the right of the people for a better future.
There is a certain new sense of purpose and urgency being demonstrated by the Union and State Governments in a spirit of competitive and cooperative federalism. I am happy the honourable Prime Minister has given a call that the Centre and States must work as Team India. That is the need of the hour. Not only Centre and States but also the local bodies keeping in view the spirit of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendment where the powers to be given to the lower level of the system. Let us play the role of a catalyst in fulfilling this national quest.
I would like to assure all of you that it shall be my earnest endeavor to uphold the dignity of the Office of Vice-President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha and live up to the trust you have reposed in me. I am at your service and always open to your suggestions for improving the functioning of this august House as per your collective wisdom.
In the end, I would like to remind the Hon’ble Members of the Resolution adopted by this august House at the Special Session on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of our Independence in 1997. The members resolved to preserve and enhance the prestige of the Parliament by conscious and dignified conformity to the entire regime of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the House and direction of the Presiding Officer. Let us abide by this solemn resolution.