Shillong, Oct. 21: For a man who has spent a substantial chunk of his long political innings trouble-shooting and building consensus, President Pranab Mukherjee’s maiden speech in the Meghalaya Assembly today was more than momentous.
Greeted by fairly empty roads and a few bystanders in view of the 36-hour shutdown called by the proscribed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, Mukherjee exhorted the Meghalaya legislators to “reduce divergence, and expand convergence” through “dialogue”.
These words could not have been more relevant for Meghalaya, a state undergoing a stand-off between the government and pressure groups on the inner-line permit. Since the last dialogue on August 29, there has been no effort to diffuse the volatile situation or call the agitating groups for a dialogue.
Reminding the gathering of the Anna Hazare movement in 2011, where a group of Union ministers, including him, were tasked by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to engage Hazare and his team in a dialogue, Mukherjee said, “The Prime Minister could have said the Lokpal bill would be legislated by Parliament and not by you (Hazare) and there need not be any dialogue. But instead, discussions were held between the government and the groups.”
Exhorting the legislators to play a constructive role, the President said in a country of more than 122 crore people, it was impossible for just the 787 members of Parliament and 4,225 state legislators to speak.
“Civil society groups and non-governmental organisations also have an important role — to express the views of the people. And the duty of the government of the day is to respond effectively and engage in dialogue. Differences can be resolved only through dialogue,” he said.
The presidential address, which lasted for half-an-hour, was delivered extempore on the last day of the autumn session of the state legislature.
Chief minister Mukul Sangma, who has ruled out any further dialogue with the agitating pressure groups, said in his speech that Mukherjee’s words, if followed “earnestly”, would stand the state in good stead.
Mukherjee, who has been in Parliament since 1969 and till two days before he assumed the office of President last year, appeared to be upset with the continuous “disruptions” of parliamentary and Assembly proceedings.
“When I was in school, a teacher taught me the importance of the three Ds — debate/discussion, dissension and decision. Every issue has to be debated and the dissenting views should be taken (into consideration). After the debate, a decision has to be taken and then implemented.”
“But another D has encroached into the domain of parliamentary proceedings — disruption. Disruptions lead to views being gagged, defiance of the Speaker’s rulings and a complete betrayal of the people’s trust,” he added.
Passing on some important guidelines to legislators, Mukherjee said, “In my 43 years in Parliament, I have learnt that one should not miss the sessions, one should not disrupt but allow others to speak, one has to listen and be present and participate. That way, you can contribute to the development of the nation.”
He said people’s representatives must remind themselves that the posts they hold are not offered to them. “In my case, I had met you (legislators) in Assam and I begged for your vote. Similarly, you had to beg for your votes. If we indulge in disruptions, it will be a great betrayal of the people’s trust.”
He applauded the Meghalaya Assembly for its ability to uphold the dignity and decorum of the House with minimal disruptions.
The last such disruption was witnessed on the opening day of the autumn session when Opposition legislators trooped into the Well when Speaker Abu Taher Mondal did not admit an adjournment motion on the ILP as the matter was to be discussed in some other form.
The President advised legislators to spend more time in the legislature, especially to deliberate on financial matters. “The House should meet a little longer. There is nothing in the Constitution which prevents the House to meet frequently.”
Earlier, on his arrival, the President was received at the advance landing ground in Upper Shillong. A 150-member contingent of Air Warriors from the Eastern Air Command presented the ceremonial guard of honour.