Sunday, 17 June 2012

SPEAKING HIS THOUGHTS

SPEAKING HIS THOUGHTS

With his understanding of society, law, democracy and a gamut of issues, Somnath Chatterjee played a pivotal role as parliamentarian and Speaker of the Lok Sabha. A collection of his speeches reflect his views and ideas

The lasting image of Somnath Chatterjee, the redoubtable parliamentarian who was also the Speaker of the Lok Sabha between 2004 and 2008, will be that of a man who chose to answer the call of conscience, rather than buckle under the partisan diktat of Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat. So, Chatterjee was expelled from the party under the flag of which he fought and won many elections, ultimately to grace the office of the Speaker. His tenure as the Speaker was also eventful: he expelled 11 members of the Lok Sabha in ‘cash for query’ scam, besides taking tough stances to enforce discipline in the House that often suffered uncalled for ruckus. At the same time, he brought to fore many issues that we, as a nation, are bound to address. Through his speeches, both in the House and beyond, Chatterjee urged us not to be complacent, spoke about the reforms needed and the duties required to be performed for the functioning of the democracy. Some of those speeches are now back in the form of a compilation, The Collected Speeches of Somnath Chatterjee.
 
The speeches have been categorised into several topics, and accordingly the book has been divided into different sections: Parliamentary Democracy and Politics; Governance and Politics; The Media; The Economy; Panchayats and Decentralisation; Education, Youth and Empowerment; Foreign Relations; and Miscellaneous. There is nothing special about Chatterjee’s language: the speeches are simple and to-the-point. But it is clear that he has not only had interests in wide-ranging subjects, but has been conversant with the issues and the relevant information. Copious references to the facts and figures are enlightening, making these speeches valuable documents of the Indian democracy.
 
I was keen to know what he thought about the media. Chatterjee sees journalism as a “great mission in a democracy.” But at the same time he laments the deterioration of standards in certain sections of the media that are sensationalists, money-making machines where the editors are sidelined and the marketing folks dictate terms as to what will “sell”; and how negative images about the Parliament are often given more prominence over the important debates and discussions that are held in the highest legislature.
 
In a speech on the National Press Day of 2007, Chatterjee says: “Press Freedom is not without responsibility... The editorial policy of newspapers should not be directed by the prejudices of media moghuls and media barons... Today, it appears, the most important page, for most mainstream newspapers is the overbearing ‘page three’...” From these speeches it becomes clear that Chatterjee was not just delivering a speech in one of the many functions he had to attend, but he was seriously concerned about the state of Indian media. It will seem that it was not just the Speaker of the Lok Sabha who was speaking, but the conscience keeper of the nation. For journalists and students of media these speeches can be instructive in many ways, more so when there are covert attempts to curb and control the media, and a certain section of journalists are eager to be manipulated by the lure of filthy lucre, rather than standing up for the truth.
 
Several inclusions in this book are the ‘memorial’ lectures. Besides recalling the contribution of those persons who were celebrated on those occasions, Chatterjee stressed on the aspirations of the people in a democracy and reminded us about our achievements. He didn’t shy away from the flaws in this country: corruption in our political system; plight of the farmers; illiteracy in the country; gender disparity in education; and the like. But he also drove home a message: We must have faith in ourselves and strive to excel in all fields. Such words may sound clich├ęd, given that almost all political elements say nice words and play to the gallery. But, when the words come from someone as erudite and upright as Chatterjee, the gravitas is enhanced; it feels genuine. One can only hope that the ideas that Chatterjee spoke of in his speeches will stir the young minds who have the responsibility to carry forward the Indian democracy, and let the nation claim a place at the international high table.
 
The Collected Speeches of Somnath Chatterjee
By: Somnath Chatterjee
Genre: Non Fiction / Speeches
Publisher: Westland
Pages: 596
Price: Rs 695