A watchful Parliament forms the foundation of a well-functioning democracy. The presiding officers of Parliament are the key to securing the effectiveness of this institution. The MPs look to them to facilitate debate, protect their rights and uphold the dignity of Parliament. On Wednesday, Lok Sabha MPs are set to elect one amongst themselves, to play the pivotal role of the presiding officer for the 17th Lok Sabha.
The primary challenge before the new Speaker will be to conduct the proceedings of the Lok Sabha free from disruptions. To do so, the Speaker will have to earn the trust of the Members of Parliament One way to earn the trust of MPs will be by being neutral, both in practice and perception while running the House.
Securing the neutrality of the Speaker is a question that experts in India have been grappling with for 60-plus years. In Britain, the promise of continuity in office for many terms is used to ensure the Speaker's impartiality. By convention, political parties (usually) do not field a candidate against the Speaker at the time of general elections. And the Speaker can continue in office, until deciding otherwise. By convention, the Speaker also gives up the membership of his/her political party.
The first Speaker of the Lok Sabha, G V Mavalankar, was aware that the British convention for securing the neutrality of the Speaker might not be an easy sell in the nascent years of our democracy. In his 1952 acceptance speech as Speaker of the first Lok Sabha, he said We have yet to evolve political parties and healthy conventions about Speakership, the principle of which is that, once a Speaker he is not opposed by any party in the matter of his election, whether in the constituency or in the House, so long as he wishes to continue as Speaker. He went on to say, "to expect the Speaker to be out of politics altogether without the corresponding convention is perhaps entertaining contradictory expectations."
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