“Respected former Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh ji, the man of this evening Shri Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Member of Rajya Sabha, distinguished invitees, friends from the media, Brothers and Sisters!
It is a matter of pleasure for me spending some quality time with such a galaxy of intellectuals and informed people this evening. I am particularly glad to be associated with the release of the book ‘Straight Talk’ which is a compilation of articles written by Shri Abhishek Manu Singhvi, over the last five years, on a host of issues.
I would only be stating the obvious when I say that Shri Abhishek is one of the leading lawyers of the country besides making a mark in the fields of politics, parliamentary debates, writing etc. He is a genuine and accomplished multi-tasker who is also among the small breed of select and privileged ones who have successfully courted politics.
I have been watching him for a couple of decades now. I am impressed with his clarity of thought, ability of articulation, sense of balance and the power of his pen. As Chairman of Rajya Sabha, I am happy that he is a Member of the House of Elders. Well done Abhishek ji and keep it up.
He has moved on from ‘Candid Corner’ five years ago to ‘Straight Talk’ now. Candid Corner was a similar collection of his writings for which forward was also written by Dr.Manmohan Singh ji.
With his latest collection of writings, Abhishek seeks to talk straight urging the readers to dream and dream big, the canvass of this being ‘India of My Dreams’. It is not soft dreams he suggests but hard dreams based on hard facts about the India on the rise. He advocates moving away from the romantic India famous for it’s soft powers like the spirituality, traditions, history, our value systems, bollywood, the cuisine, culture, languages, the smells and sounds of India etc.
Shri Singhvi asserts in this book with a certain strength of convictions and hope of realizing a better India in the near future and I quote “We need to dream hard as India emerges to be close to being the third largest economy of the world with the fastest growing telecom sector, expanding global footprints of Indian companies etc.” He argues for a Better India by harnessing it’s full potential so that our country occupies the place it richly deserves.
All the 63 articles are thoughtfully categorized under seven chapters titled attractively like Good Governance, Society Today, Reforming Judiciary, Facing Terrorism, The Nuclear issue, Trends in the Media and Some Heroes and Icons. Well informed and erudite that he is, Shri Singhvi evidentially captures India’s strengths, capabilities, contradictions, synergies, mindsets, our glorious past and a few small things that were neglected over the years and which could have made a big difference to realize a better India.
In his own words in the Introduction to the ‘Straight Talk’, Shri Singhvi says and I quote “The object and the intent, the approach and technique – be it critical, laudatory, hortatory (exhorting), cynical, analytical, argumentative or comparative- is always the same: to nudge this great country closer and closer to the India of my dreams”. And his dream is a Better India.
Now, we need to know what are the challenges to make a Better India? Abhishek ji lists eight of them. These are : Lifting about 300 million Indians out of absolute poverty, Environmental degradation, Strengthening India’s liberal democracy and Health issues like HIV/AIDS epidemic. These four have been taken from Edward Luce’s book ‘In spite of the Gods’. And then he added four more viz., Universalisation of primary and secondary education with a sense of India and a sense of values and philosophy of India, Corruption, Judicial Reforms and Electoral Reforms. Who can question or disagree with this scheme of challenges for a Better India? None can I am sure.
Any book would be meaningful only if it has some concrete suggestions to make for action that could bring about a difference. On this count also, Shri Singhvi does well. I can’t claim to have read the whole book. But I did go through the introduction and some other select articles. from these flow the following nine important suggestions relating to functioning of legislatures, judiciary, elections, media, promoting excellence etc:
1. Automatic suspension of allowances for law makers per day or per hour, lost due to disruptions, combined with suspension of named members for a prolonged period without revocation based on misplaced benevolence.
I am happy that this suggestion echoed my concern over the virulently aggressive disruption of proceedings. I have set up a Committee to review and revisit the Rules of Procedure and Business of Rajya Sabha for enabling smooth functioning of the House. This Committee has started work and an Interim Report is likely to be submitted next month. I hope this suggestion of Shri Singhvi will be considered by the Committee.
2. Amending the law to see that Whip does not apply to legislative voting and at the time of introduction of Bills so that bipartisan legislative proposals can be made that have a chance of becoming law.
Shri Singhvi’s argument is that this encourages flexibility in voting and legislative creativity since proposing laws is now in the sole domain of governments. 3. Government losing vote in the House on any legislation should not be treated as having lost the confidence of the House. Confidence of the House in the Government should be tested only through specific No Confidence Motions.
This suggestion is in line with the recommendation of giving liberty to MPs on voting on Bills.
4. Disqualifying law makers with criminal antecedents at the stage of framing of charges by the Courts
This makes sense in the context of growing concern over rising number of law makers with criminal record. I have been saying for long that law makers should be elected based on four Cs i.e. Capacity, Caliber, Character and Conduct and not based on the other four Cs i.e. Caste, Community, Cash and Criminal Prowess.
5. Announcing the successor Judge a month before a Judge retires.
Being a part of the system, Shri Singhvi clinically analyzed the reasons for huge pendency of cases and made this suggestion worthy of serious consideration.
6. Mandatory Judicial Impact assessment of all legislations.
This recommendation is perhaps meant to assess the potential of litigation flowing from any legislation so that government’s can be more careful while drafting legislative proposals.
7. Fast Track Courts for election related cases.
This makes sense in the context of inordinate delay in deciding such cases by which a law maker meriting disqualification would have completed the term availing all benefits. The statutory provision of deciding election cases in six months is followed more in violation now.
8. New Ministry of Excellence
Voicing concern over excellence being considered as an elitist concept for long in our context, this has been suggested to instiutionalise, internalize and make operational excellence at all levels. There is also a call to start movement of excellence. This impacts the quality of our vast human resources and efficiency of production.
9. Legislative intervention to ensure level playing field and unbiased news and reporting by media.
I am sure all including the friends from media would be interested in this. This suggestion has been made in the context of ‘Tyranny of TRPs (Television Rating Points)’ with subjectivity and noise dominating the TV space with truth, individuals and institutions becoming victims in the process.
Besides such specific suggestions, the learned Shri Abhishek Manu Singhvi has made some observations which are equally important for public debate.
Regarding judiciary, he writes and I quote “Judicial activism, in the sense of excessive judicial interference in the working of a democratic polity, is a basic and undeniable truth in India. Judicial overreach is a living reality, making lament formal and protest ornamental. From the monkey to the dog menace, from corruption to cleaning up cities and rivers, from the comic to the divine and from the useful to the banal, India has all varieties of Judicial activism on offer”.
In the context of strict separation of power in our Constitutional scheme of things, this wide spread concern needs to engage the minds of the people who are the patrons of our cherished democracy. Shri Singhvi has quoted a few instances of judicial overreach in his ‘Straight Talk.
Other major concerns voiced by Shri Singhvi include the rising money power in elections and our legislatures becoming more and more hereditary.
In the context of complaints by the losers against Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs), this ‘Straight Talk’ has this to say, “Despite periodic taunts and criticism of EVM, there is a near unanimity that it yields a remarkably accurate and virtually unassailable results.”
These specific suggestions and other comments of the author on the functioning of various institutions of our polity needs to be widely discussed for the much needed transformation towards a Better India.
Shri Singhvi dreams of a Better India. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is targeting a New India. The underlying concerns and intent are the same. Every Indian has a dream and every citizen has an aspiration. This makes our country Aspirational India.
The principal issue is realizing this New and Better India of the dream of every Indian. In our parliamentary democracy, political parties have an important role to play. Politics should not be the be all and end all of political activities. It should be transformation of India towards a New and Better India.
We need to ponder if our legislatures are sending out the right message to the people who have lot of expectations from our legislatures, the temples of democracy. ‘The ruling and opposition parties divide that is becoming increasingly manifest in our legislatures does not inspire confidence in the people.
The ruling and opposition parties have specific responsibilities to discharge. While the governments and ruling parties of the day seek to push legislative proposals, the opposition is mandated with ensuring the best possible scrutiny. At the end of the day, the best possible legislations should follow which further the aspirations of the people. This can be realized without both loosing their respective identities. This calls for a new political approach based on ‘Less Fission (division) and more Fusion’. Incidentally, this is a title of one of the articles in Singhvi’s ‘Straight Talk’.
Political parties are at the best only rivals and not enemies. Rivals contend with each other based on certain norms, conventions and agreed principles while enemies seek to destroy each other. I expect all the parties to be guided by this distinction.
The themes and sub-themes addressed in the book are timeless and transcend politics, political parties, governments and current events. They raise conceptual issues and matters of everlasting importance for the nation at large.
Shri Singhvi’s anguish in this book about India being described as a major soft power than a hard power and an iron fist in a velvet glove comes out clear. We all share this anguish. Let us take India to its right orbit. This mission is on and we shall be there.
In the end,
Mr.Abhishek Manu Singhvi, in this Council of informed members who have the ability to further amplify the message that you seek to give out, I admit your motion for an informed debate on Better India.
Thank you all for patient hearing.”