‘Anti-national’ is an embarrassment

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

The observation was sharp, but it is far from clear how the issue of nationalism enters the discussion.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)

It was evident that the major — and highly unpopular — recent decision of the government to demonetise high-value currency notes, for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared to take credit, will dominate the Winter Session of Parliament.

It was also pretty plain that the implications of the decision might cast a long political shadow in light of Assembly polls in a clutch of states, notably Uttar Pradesh. A parliamentary brawl between the government and its opponents was thus on the cards. But it was inconceivable that the ruling party would seek to present the purity of its intent by casting the principal Opposition party as “anti-national”.

But this is exactly what happened in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday when information and broadcasting minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, losing all sense of proportion as befits a Cabinet minister, flayed the Leader of the Opposition, Ghulam Nabi Azad, as being “anti-national”.

The provocation was Mr Azad’s remark that more people had died standing in long banking queues to exchange defunct notes than in the September terrorist attack in Uri, underlining the gravity of the government’s unthinking decision and its likely impact on ordinary people.

The observation was sharp, but it is far from clear how the issue of nationalism enters the discussion. Nor was there anything unparliamentary about it. It is hard to recall another instance when an unbecoming remark of that nature was flung in Parliament, specially at the Leader of the Opposition, protecting which position is the very essence of democratic order and Parliament’s dignity.

Evidently, parliamentary etiquette is at a discount. But more, the minister’s riposte is likely to confirm for many that the slightest opposition to the government’s narrative on any subject and in any forum, not excluding Parliament, invites the criticism of being “anti-national” from the ruling BJP. Instances can be multiplied.

This is another instance of the creeping intolerance by the ruling establishment. In fact, it is noticeable that the saffron party, and its affiliates, had not travelled this path in the last NDA government led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, or when the BJP sat in the Opposition.

As such, one of two inferences can be made: the BJP has either turned arrogant and bristles against any criticism, or the party is betraying signs of nervousness as regards the political meaning of demonetisation in the context of the upcoming state elections.

Confirming that Mr Naidu’s remark was not a spur of the moment venting of anger, in Lok Sabha, the following day, minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, called the Congress, the main Opposition party, “supporters of terrorism” for criticising demonetisation. This is hardly a propitious sign for the conduct of debate and discussion in Parliament.