The political class must start responding sensitively, generously and encouragingly to the latent views, specifically the ones that militate against discontent, disaffection and the brewing of angst. The political culture across party lines needs to overcome its insecurities, illiberalities and discriminations if it truly aims to deliver an egalitarian, progressive and reformist agenda.

Participative democracy across the world is becoming increasingly divisive and bitter. The result has been ever-diminishing space for such democratic values as liberalism, debate and nuance. The dominant spirit of either-with-us-or-against-us is the underlying binary that characterises all current political attributions. Independent political opinion is frowned upon and an absolute compliance to the ‘party position’ is mandated to the cadres, who risk the immediate taint of ‘anti-party’ or even ‘anti-national’, should they express a contrarian view. All conjectures and portents of ‘internal democracy’ are shrinking across all party lines and the curse of absolutist partisan positions has not even spared some of the constitutional posts, which requires the incumbent to rise above partisan politics and uphold the impartiality of the constitutional spirit.

The likes of the 10-time parliamentarian and subsequently the Speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, who placed constitutional principles above his lifelong political affiliations and preferences, are becoming rarer by the day. Mr Chatterjee’s refusal to resign from the constitutional post of Speaker, acting instead in an ‘independent and unbiased’ manner when the UPA government signed the Nuclear Deal with the United States, led to his expulsion from his party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This was the price paid by the ‘Outstanding Parliamentarian’ for the year 1996, for upholding the finest tenets of Constitutional morality, rectitude and correctness.

The Indian parliamentary democracy is essentially based on the Westminster model, which envisages that Parliament holds the government to account. The role of the Speaker is to impartially channelise, encourage and support the multiplicity of opinions and prevent partisanship or the dominance of majoritarism.

Recently, the Parliament of the United Kingdom saw its own celebrated and popular Speaker, Mr John Bercow, step down as Speaker and a Member of Parliament. For one who started off as an extreme ‘right-wing’ member of the Conservative Party, Mr Bercow ended his 10-year Speakership with frequent protestations and grumbling from his own party colleagues (ruling Conservative benches) for favouring the Opposition. The independent streak in the Speaker was manifest earlier with his defiance of his party whip to vote against the Adoption and Children Act, which allowed unmarried gay and heterosexual couples to adopt children. His personal stand and opinion soon relegated him from the front to the back benches, yet his continued expression of his independent thinking had led Mr Bercow to win the Channel Four/Hansard Society Political Award for ‘Opposition MP of the Year’ in 2005. His bonhomie with Members of Parliament across party lines was in consonance with his varied personal interests. He was often viewed suspiciously by his own comrades, yet he only rescinded his Conservative party membership on assuming the constitutional post of the 157th Speaker. His subsequent re-election and tenure saw him wading into various controversies, mostly on account of expressing his individual opinion that was often not in accord with either the government of the day, or his own party.

The equally tendentious Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, poked old fashioned ribbing in his farewell speech for Mr Bercow when he described him as an ‘uncontrollable tennis ball machine’ and spilled his own sense of relief at the end of his tenure by alluding to, ‘the longest retirement since Frank Sinatra’! Yet at the end of the day, the unanimous view expressed was of the Speaker who had championed the backbenchers, smaller parties, divergent views, marginalised voices and above all, as the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn noted, ‘He stood up for Parliament when it had to be stood up for’ and that he had made it, ‘a genuine democratic institution’.

Democracy in Britain still affords the spirit of democratic liberalism, with Brexit emerging as a classic example where parliamentarians are split across party lines, holding public positions that are independent and beyond the control of party whips. In the murky politics of United States, there have been occasions when a Barack Obama of the Democratic Party could pay the most powerful, sincere and heartfelt tribute to his former political opponent from the Republican Party, Senator John McCain, by talking about how John, ‘understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy, our system will not work. That’s why he was willing to buck his own party at times’, not out of political expediency, but as an ultimate tribute to someone who, ‘when all was said and done, we were on the same team’.

Today, such large-heartedness across the political divide no longer exists on Capitol Hill. President Trump has called the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, a ‘disgrace’. She has called him a ‘potty-mouth’, as the impeachment drama unfolds.

In Indian democracy, the indelible imprint of Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone Triumphs) from the ancient scripture of Mundaka Upanishad ought to override partisan or petty political considerations. In the largest working democracy in the world with unmatched diversities and concerns, differences of opinions are only natural. The former President, KR Narayanan, had spoken about Parliament as having, ‘a representative role, being the custodian of the nation’s ideals, hopes and faith. The elected members carry the will of the people, which is sovereign, and give expression to their difficulties, problems and grievances, and seek solutions to them’, thereby insisting on the freedom of speech for latent concerns.

The political class must start responding sensitively, generously and encouragingly to the latent views, specifically the ones that militate against discontent, disaffection and the brewing of angst. The political culture across party lines needs to overcome its insecurities, illiberalities and discriminations if it truly aims to deliver an egalitarian, progressive and reformist agenda.

The sad reality is that conformity is often rewarded under the garb of loyalty, whereas a truly independent view is perceived as disloyalty. Till such time that such a political culture persists, the politics of echo chambers, dynasties, cadres and ‘unthinking’ will stifle India’s tryst with its destiny.