The space for dissent in politics has shrunk dramatically in 2019 compared to 1962, said Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and three-time Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala .
Tharoor made the remark weeks after facing wrath of his party’s state unit for endorsing party colleague Jairam Ramesh’s warning last month that demonising Prime Minister Narendra Modi all the time and not recognising his work will not help the party.
Talking of the alleged shrinkage of space for dissent in politics with TV commentator Karan Thapar at a “Talk Journalism” event in a report by PTI. Tharoor also said the anti-defection law has made elected representatives mere “rubber stamps” of their parties.
“A leader in 1962 had challenged former Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s unfortunate statement on Aksai Chin that not even a blade of grass grows there. Pointing to his baldpate, the leader had told Nehru not a single hair grows on his head either. So, are you going to give it too to China? said Tharoor, referring to the well-publicised reaction to Nehru’s statement.
Tharoor along with Thapar also referred to the demand for a special parliament session by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then a parliamentarian, after the 1962 war with China and call for secession of Tamil Nadu by former MP C N Annadurai, pointing out that Nehru acceded to Vajpayee’s demand and dismissed Annadurai’s call as an opinion one was entitled to have.
All these examples illustrate such things are impermissible and unthinkable today in any party. If these were said today, Annadurai would have been charged with sedition and Vajpayee’s demand would have been treated as anti-national, said Tharoor.
The former Union minister said MPs today cannot speak out of their conscience as they cannot afford to differ from their party lines in Parliament on any Bill as it would amount to disqualification from Parliament.
He said Bollywood actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha had spoken against Prime Minister Modi and the party in previous dispensation of the BJP but voted as instructed on every Bill tabled in Parliament as a negative vote could have attracted disqualification.
This is a situation we are seeing as a result of the anti-defection law. I don’t believe those who drafted the (anti-defection) law had intended it but it is certainly an unintended consequence. In many ways it disempowers our democracy and our elected representatives as they become mere rubber stamp of their political parties, he said.
“Except during the Emergency, Indian media never saw this degree of self-censorship. It is devastating for the Indian democracy as there is no democracy without dissent,” Tharoor added.
Tharoor lauded judiciary as sole institution capable of protecting its space of dissent.
“Judiciary is one institution in the country, which is most capable of resisting this trend toward the shrinking space of dissent as they are relatively more capable of managing their own autonomy in decision making,” said Tharoor.
On the contrary, other institutions are directly dependent on the government and are not able to do it, he added.
“Politicians should learn to take uncomfortable questions as a part of their job and if they are not able to do it, they do not deserve to represent people,” said Tharoor.
“Some motivated and malicious questions, however, need to be ignored,” he added.