The election of Meira Kumar as the Lok Sabha Speaker has led to a curious debate as to whether the Congress Party’s decision is an exercise in tokenism or a recognition of talent.(talent or tokenism). Whatever the reason for the decision, there are clear expectations from the office that the Speaker ought to be neutral in her conduct of the House. I was disappointed after reading the synopsis and the debates of the Lok Sabha proceedings on the election of the Speaker, that no one, including the new Speaker, made any reference, let alone lip service, to the desirable convention that the Speaker, after election, quits the membership of the party, on whose ticket she was elected to the House. The Tenth Schedule to the Constitution gives such an option to the Speaker to do so. The previous Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, clearly rued the fact that he did not do so, and went down in history as the only Speaker to have been expelled from his party later for other reasons. He wished that his successors revived the convention of Speaker quitting the party membership, on election to the office of the Speaker.
This is not to suggest that Meira Kumar may well prove to be a partisan Speaker, because she did not quit her party. She may well satisfy the Opposition, but had she formally quit her party, it would have certainly enhanced the prestige of her office. The first Speaker of the Lok Sabha, G.V.Mavlankar, failed to follow the precedent set by his predecessor before Independence, Vithalbhai Patel, by formally resigning from the party. The convention was revived by Sanjeeva Reddy when he became Speaker in 1967, but his successors did not follow the convention. Somnath Chatterjee’s problems must have convinced Meira Kumar that she must revive it. But she missed that opportunity.