Not all the members could take the oath the first day. The House reconvened after a gap of a day on May 15. After the remaining members took the oath, the proceedings for electing the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker were set in motion.
Agree to disagree
That it was a House with divergent voices and views was evident from the word go. Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru moved a resolution in the Lok Sabha proposing Mavalankar’s name for the Speaker’s post. The resolution was seconded by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Satya Narayan Sinha.
Immediately after this, A K Gopalan of the Communist Party of India and an MP from Cannanore moved a counter-resolution proposing Shankar Shantaram More’s name. T K Chaudhuri from Berhampore seconded the motion.
The dissension between the ruling party and the Opposition was for all to see. Dr Lanka Sundaram, an Independent member from Madras, tried to work out a truce by asking the ruling party to accept the Opposition’s candidate as Deputy Speaker in lieu of the Opposition’s support to their candidate for the Speaker’s post. He was, however, opposed by the members.
Mavalankar was declared the Speaker after a voice vote. The defeated candidate, however, got up to register his regret over the move. After congratulating Mavalankar, he reminded the House of the conventions followed by the British House of Commons, from which the Indian Parliament had drawn many practices. “Unfortunately, some of these conventions have become a casualty even at the very first meeting of our House,” he said. He cited the English convention of getting the minority members to propose and second the name of the Speaker so as to assure them that the Speaker will protect their interests in an impartial manner. He said the leader of the ruling party proposing the name of the Speaker and another prominent leader seconding the name casts a shadow over the expected impartiality of the Speaker.
The fear of the victor
More’s concern that a Congress majority in the House may not help the interests of those in minority was echoed by subsequent speakers who spoke after the election of the Speaker.
“There are so many victorious leaders of the victorious party here and it is not unusual that the wine of victory goes to their heads and the minorities suffer,” said More.
Regretting the manner in which the Speaker was elected, Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee said, “I am not very happy at the way in which the establishment of sound conventions has been retarded in the selection of the Speaker.” Addressing the Speaker, he said, “Of course, the size of the treasury benches and the Government party is big enough but still, for the first time in free India, we are going to have a Parliament where the Opposition will not be negligible. It will be for you to see how conventions and traditions are respected so that a healthy constitutional life may develop within the walls of this House.”
After congratulating the Speaker on his selection, MP Sucheta Kriplani asked him to safeguard the interests of all political parties and not be influenced by the large number of Congress MPs. “Not only the members of the Congress party but members of various other political parties and Independent members are representing the people of India in this House. Many of these parties are numerically small but I trust all the rights and privileges, not only of all the parties but of each member would be safe in your hands.”
Several other members expressed their anxiety over the Congress “steamrolling” its agenda at the cost of smaller parties and minority interests.
Women were in a clear minority in the House. There were around 20 women in both the Houses put together. The Lok Sabha had less than 10 women. Prominent among them were Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Sucheta Kriplani, Uma Nehru and Ammu Swaminathan and G Durgabai. The maximum number of women, four, were from Madras.
Probably daunted by a large number of men around her, member Kumari Annie Mascarene, while congratulating the new Speaker of the House, made an earnest plea: “On behalf of those few ladies here, I hope that you will give us sufficient protection and opportunities for expressing our opinion in this House.”
Mind your manners!
On the first day, member H D Rajah was miffed over being asked to follow “Parliamentary etiquette”. Addressing the Chair, he said: “You will see that the Secretary has issued to the members of this great House a bulletin in which he has given directions as to how the members of this House must conduct themselves. I strongly object to that sort of a bulletin. This House is just four days old. This great House will establish its own traditions, its own rights and privileges...” Describing it as a violation of the privileges of the members, he said, “I beg to submit that the Secretary’s bulletin, which contains suggestions as to what we should do and what we should not do and also contains what is called Parliamentary etiquette, should be withdrawn.”
The chairman tried to pacify Rajah by saying that the rules of etiquette mentioned in the bulletin were observed in parliaments all over the world and are only meant to guide members on how to conduct themselves in the House.
Between the first day and the last day of the first Parliament, the Lok Sabha held 14 sessions and the Rajya Sabha 15 sessions. During this period, Parliament accomplished many a goal, the foremost among them being the passage of a number of Acts necessary to kick-start diverse functions in the new democracy. The first Parliament passed 322 Acts for sectors as diverse as banking, currency, insurance, commerce and industry, defence, education, fiscal and finance, health, legal and several others. It also passed six Constitutional Amendments in the first year before its termination on December 22, 1956.
Lighter side of proceedings
Following are some anecdotes from the first Parliament gathered from gazettes and debates, souvenirs brought out at the end of every term by the Lok Sabha Secretariat and journals sourced from the Parliament library.
* Academically speaking
A majority of the members of the first Lok Sabha were graduates. A large number, at least 75, were law graduates with a significant number among them being post graduates in law. At least 35 members held masters in arts or science. More than 15 were educated abroad. Some prominent names among them were B R Ambedkar (Columbia University, the US and the London School of Economics), Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (Harrow School, Trinity College, Cambridge), Major General Himatsinhji (Malvern College, Oxford), Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (Middle Temple, England), Hriday Nath Kunzru (London School of Economics), H G Mudgal (New York College).
* The Oxford accent
In one of his articles published in the Free Press Journal, Congress MP from Bombay-North V B Gandhi noted that oratory in most Parliament debates around the world was on the wane whereas the country’s first Parliament had plenty of men “who liked to thunder and thrill the House in the right oratorical fashion”. Noting that it was a delight to listen to some members, he wrote in his piece that “both English and Hindi are spoken with greater effect and in the case of English, one hears it spoken in one or two instances with an almost perfect Oxford accent”.
* Silence is Golden
Well-known parliamentarian M S Gurupadaswamy, who entered the first Lok Sabha after defeating H C Dasappa, known as Mysore Gandhi, seems to have had a wicked sense of humour. In a retort to one of his friends’ remark that MPs were chatter boxes, he said talking was an MP’s privilege and responsibility. He said democracy meant a government by talk. Then, in a piece written for a publication, he noted several MPs refrained from speaking in the House even on issues of importance. But the government, he said, treated such MPs well. “For instance, when foreign delegations and important committees are formed, MPs who have observed the rule of silence and who have not worried themselves about the debates, are normally accommodated,” he wrote.
* Fair and lovely
Gurupadaswamy was happy with the presence of ladies inside Parliament. The expression of this happiness, however, may be read differently. He is quoted in the souvenir of the first Lok Sabha as saying that “it has been well said that lady MPs add lustre and life to Parliament. Many a time the debate was enlivened by the sweet and delicate voices of lady MPs. Really, if there had been no lady MPs, Parliament would have been a monotonously dull House.”
* Language woes
The work of determining Hindi equivalents for parliamentary, legal, and administrative terms was initiated by the Constituent Assembly and after its dissolution, the work was handed over to the Lok Sabha Secretariat. Two committees, with MPs conversant in Sanskrit, Hindi and other languages, completed the task of fixing Hindi equivalents of 26,000 such terms in five years over 108 meetings.