Rasheeda Bhagat

Making a powerful case for dissent

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on July 01, 2019

Mahua Moitra Promising future   -  PTI

Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra’s maiden speech in the Lok Sabha has marked her as a leader to watch out for

Something drastic was required to jolt to life the shrinking, zombie-like Opposition benches in the Lok Sabha after the stunning BJP victory, so huge, it can muzzle any voice of dissent. And a powerful voice of dissent did resonate through the portals of the lower house on June 25, when first time MP, Trinamool Congress’ Mahua Moitra, delivered her fiery maiden speech.

Packed with powerful punches that challenged the might of the Modi government and expressing pain over the continued lynching of Muslims, the articulate MP delivered her speech with both passion and lung power, silencing the “professional hecklers” and urging the Speaker to put the House in order so she could complete her speech.

The blows came one after another. She spoke of attacks on the Indian Constitution, the numerous visible signs that “this country is being torn apart”; promotion of a nationalism that is “superficial, xenophobic and narrow”; and throwing out “as illegal immigrants people who have lived in this country for 50 years. In a country where Ministers cannot produce certificates to prove that they are graduates, you expect dispossessed poor people to produce papers to show that they belong to this country?” she asked incredulously.

Disdain for intellectuals

Later, the shocked BJP supporters blasted the Trinamool MP on social media for questioning the government for “the subjugation and controlling of the mass media; fake news and manipulating minds”, its “resounding disdain for human rights” and asked her to deliver the speech first to her own leader Mamata Banerjee, who has little appetite for dissent.

While this is a valid point, the issues that Moitra raised cannot be brushed under the carpet and need attention and decisive action. When she thundered how “slogans and symbols are being used to test allegiance”, it immediately brought to mind the new mania for harassing and coercing Muslims to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

Why use something that should be confined to one’s pooja room or a temple, and deeply enshrined in the believer’s heart, as an instrument of harass someone who doesn’t want to chant it?

The reigning “disdain for intellectuals” is amply evident in the popularity of absurd terms such as ‘urban Naxals’ and the ‘Khan market gang’; slogans used to label people who do not kowtow to the BJP’s ideology.

The Trinamool MPlisted a few visible “signs of fascism” — nationalism by sloganeering, muzzling/manipulation of the media, drumming up of some “nameless shapeless kala bhoot (demon) threatening the country, cutting funding for liberal education and mixing up religion and government”, that was “pushing India back to the dark ages”.

You may agree or disagree with them, but you can’t take away her right to say so, more so because she is now an elected MP.

The content of her speech, the confidence with which it was delivered, her diction and use of words, and the way she managed the muscle of the treasury benches, has now made her the toast of not only the Indian media but also the international media, which has already turned the spotlight on continuing lynchings in India.

Educated, intelligent, articulate

If allowed by her mercurial and unpredictable party chief Mamata Bannerjee to blossom into a mature politician, Mahua Moitra is a leader to watch out for. And that too a woman leader, who has graduated in maths and economics from an American university, and worked as a vice-president of JP Morgan in London and New York. In a Lok Sabha where educated, erudite leaders, who are also powerful orators (not rabble rousers donning various religious hues), have dwindled, Moitra’s presence comes like a breath of fresh air. The House sorely misses the oratory of an Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Piloo Mody, Somnath Chatterjee and the like.

The firm manner in which Moitra handled heckling brings to mind Mody’s ready wit. Once, while addressing the Rajya Sabha as a Janata Party MP, he responded to a Congress MP’s heckling by saying, “Stop barking”.

The man objected to “being compared to a dog”, and the expression was expunged.

With a straight face, Mody said: “Ok, then stop braying”; the Congress MP didn’t know what this meant, kept his peace and the expression stayed in the records!

She concluded her admirable speech by quoting the poet Raahat Indori, which pseudo-nationalists will do well to remember: “Sabhi ka khoon hei shaamil yahan ki mitti me/Kisi ke baap ka hindustan thodi hai? (This soil has everybody’s blood in it. India doesn’t belong to anybody’s father.)”

Published on July 01, 2019

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