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March 25, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/G M C Balayogi

'If members are intent on digressing from real issues, I shall be tough'

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Early morning on Wednesday, a day after he was sworn in as Speaker of the 12th Lok Sabha, as cronies and colleagues from Andhra Pradesh vied to greet him with bouquets, sandalwood garlands and apples, G M C Balayogi managed to slip away along with his 30-member entourage, security et al in a ten-car convoy, from his suite at AP Bhavan to a nearby Saibaba temple to seek the deity's blessings. Minutes later, he reappeared, again to seek blessings, this time of his party colleagues and workers.

"You have to guide me," he told them with folded hands, much as an obedient, well-mannered student would seek his teacher's counsel. "Time will teach you everything, don't worry, It's going to be all right," said AP strongman Dronam Satyanarayana encouragingly.

Meanwhile, his staff materialised with a copy of Mr Speaker: Role and Functions, containing essays by past and present stalwarts of Parliament.

Through all this, Balayogi took some time off to speak to Y Siva Sankar, in his first interview to the media since his election as Speaker.

There are fears that the Vajpayee government's trust vote on March 27 and 28 will see Uttar Pradesh style turmoil. What is your opinion?

It may be complicated. Stiff, even. But I don't foresee any trouble. I have faith in the well-established traditions and customs of the Lok Sabha, which will be my guiding principle.

I shall strive to ensure that the Lok Sabha sets the standard for state assemblies.

I also don't think there is a need for specific plans to ensure smooth conduct of the House's business. Situations have to be handled according to circumstances.

The equality of debates has to be improved. I shall strive to continue and strengthen the traditions laid down by my illustrious predecessors.

Given the background of your election, with the Opposition shouting itself hoarse that the BJP cheated Sangma, naturally your impartiality will be under scrutiny...

The Speaker's chair is above politics. I shall be fair to all (political groups), within the framework of rules and regulations. I'm sure my style of functioning will give them the necessary reassurance. But, if they are intent on digressing from real issues, I shall be tough.

Tuesday was your first day as Speaker. How do you look back on the experience?

My first day's experience as Speaker of the world's largest democracy was happy. No, I was not tense or nervous or overawed by the job. After all, I have had experience as a minister, administrator and zilla parishad chairman.

At the same time, I am also aware of the challenges the Lok Sabha Speaker has to face in the era of coalitions and judicial activism. Our Constitution had laid down separate roles and limits for legislature, executive and judiciary. My endeavour would be to protect and preserve the sanctity of Parliament.

But on the first day, you did encounter sarcasm from Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav, did that bother you?

Some people are like that. They don't discuss things relevant to the context. Mayawati brought up the UP affair which was out of context.

You are often described as the first Dalit to become Lok Sabha Speaker. What is your own perception? How do you look at your elevation?

It is a matter of individual expressions. I would interpret my success as a sign of the maturity of Indian democracy. For the first time in 50 years, a Dalit has been elected Lok Sabha Speaker. It's a good signal that the principle of equal opportunities is working well in India.

There was an element of cloak and dagger at the manner of your nomination. What is your view on this?

I would attribute the manner of my nomination to the political cirucmstances of the day. I knew I was going to be the Speaker only on the day of the election. On my Indian Airlines flight to Delhi from Hyderabad, an announcement from the PM's office was made that I should drive from the airport straight to Parliament House to file my nomination.

Were you confident of victory?

One 100 per cent! My leader (AP Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu) assured me that some political parties have pledged their support.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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