Having relished being in the thick of things when his theatre of operations was the “floor”, it was indeed heartening to note that elevation to high office has broadened the perspective of Mr M Venkaiah Naidu.
His recent assertion that political parties are rivals not enemies is a welcome appeal to the political class to “cool it” ~ when confrontationist-aggression is the staple diet of what masquerades as the national leadership.
While the Vice-President did not state that specifically, the onus for “climate control” rests squarely with the ruling party, and it is hoped that Mr Naidu’s erstwhile fellow-scrappers do not perceive his apparent change of heart as going soft in the salubrious environment of a bungalow in Maulana Azad Marg.
Some are interpreting Mr Naidu’s comment in the context of the controversy over the forthcoming visit of former President Pranab Mukherjee to the RSS bastion, but they would be doing Mr Naidu much disservice if they do not acknowledge his attempt to “grow with the job” and rise above being just a BJP leader.
It was significant that he made his powerful observation that “sitting together does not mean being converted” at the release of Congress stalwart Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s Straight Talk.
For he was referring to the demise of a healthy parliamentary practice in which members sometimes moved to a bench across the aisle to discuss something with the “other side”: time was when ministers did that too, and it was not uncommon to occasionally see an Opposition member even sit alongside the Prime Minister for a brief interaction, or clarification.
Those were happier times, when the legislature was not a political punching-bag, and the “collective wisdom of the House” came into play in national governance. Mr Naidu did authenticate his argument by referring to some parliamentary points Singhvi had made in his book, unlike other VIPs who merely “release” books, Naidu had perused its contents too.
The Vice-President, who is also the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, indicated his displeasure at misbehaviour in the House and said he was awaiting a report of a committee set up to take another look at the rule book, perhaps add teeth to it. Unlike the Lok Sabha the “red book” governing the Rajya Sabha does not provide for suspending unruly members, possibly because when rules were framed for “the House of Elders” it was presumed to be a more mature, less-political forum, and misbehaving members had never entered the minds of formulating the procedures ~ a sad commentary on how things have deteriorated.
Yet there would be concerns over exaggerated emphasis on “teeth” and tinkering with procedure: has the re-scheduling of Question Hour (by Mr Naidu’s immediate predecessor) had a positive effect? True reform will only follow inspiring leadership: alas, a leadership-deficit is a national malaise, cutting across party lines.