Lok Sabha

June 11, 2014

Prof. Sugata Bose speaks on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address | Transcript

Mr. Chairman, Sir, carrying a little flame of India in my heart I have come to India from abroad to be of little service to my motherland at a critical turning point in our history… (Interruptions).

I greet you all in the name of our leader, Kumari Mamata Banerjee and 34 Lok Sabha Members of the All India Trinamool Congress of whom 11 are outstanding women from different walks of life.

I am honoured to be able to deliver my maiden speech in this august House as part of the debate on the President’s Address. It is a time honoured convention for a maiden speech not to be interrupted and I would appeal to my fellow Members to listen quietly while I speak.

We are most grateful to our Rashtrapatiji for coming down from Raisina Hills to address us in the Central Hall of Parliament. We only wish the new Government had utilised this ceremonial occasion better to give us and the country a clear enunciation of policies instead of a recitation of pious wishes. We share with the Government a commitment to build a strong India that will command the highest respect around the world.We commend the hon. Prime Minister for his initiative in inviting the leaders of SAARC countries to his Swearing-in ceremony. We need a generous and an imaginative foreign policy towards our neighbours so that regional problems do not impede our legitimate ambition to play a major role on the global stage. One of the biggest challenges of the 21st century will be for India and China to peacefully manage their simultaneous rise. But I was sorry to see my good friend Shri Rajiv Pratap Rudy being too starry-eyed in his admiration of China. China is, after all, a one party dictatorship and an authoritarian State. Our developmental path should be better based on our own democracy. We agree with the Government that Japan can be our valuable partner in building world class infrastructure across Asia. As a historian I am glad that the Government recognises our soft power potential. When Rabindranath Tagore set out on his voyage to South-East Asia he had followed the civilizational trail of India’s entry into the universe. Tagorean universalism can serve us well in this contemporary phase of global interconnections. Since, Sushmaji, our hon. Minister of External Affairs is present in the House, I would like to say that we will extend our hand of cooperation in her conduct of foreign policy.

Mr. Chairman, Sir, it is true that the federal spirit animating our polity in the past has been sadly diluted in recent years. The great swadeshi leader Bipin Chandra Pal had pointed out in his book, The Soul of India, the legendary king Bharata – after whom our country Bharatbarsha is named – had been described in the ancient texts as Rajchakravarti. He took pains to explain that the term did not mean emperor but simply a king at the centre of a circle of kings. That was the model for great princes and king of kings in ancient times. He also pointed out that in the age of Muslim sovereigns Indian polity always of a federal type became even more pronouncedly so. The age of Monarchy has passed, in this era of democracy the Central Government must learn to behave like a Government at the centre of a circle of State governments. We welcome the Centre’s promise of cooperative federalism. When the Central Government siphons off the bulk of a State’s revenues in the form of debt interest, surely, it violates the federal spirit. I call upon the Central Government in its reply to this debate to spell out what policies it will adopt to provide relief to debt-trapped States that are suffering because of the irresponsible profligacy of previous regimes. For no fault of their own these States, including mine, cannot pursue their developmental agenda towards poverty elimination, a concept which was first enunciated by a great Gujrati leader Dadabhai Naoroji in the 19th century.

I must also strenuously object to the patronising claim made by this Government that it will bring the “Eastern region of the country on par with the Western region in terms of physical and social infrastructure”. I quote from the President’s speech. Here I differ slightly from my friend Shri Bhartruhari Mahtab because I want Odisha to prosper. I consider myself as half Oriya because my grandfather was born in Cuttack. But the fact is that the Western and the Northern regions lag behind the Eastern and the Southern regions in terms of every conceivable index of human development and social infrastructure, specially education and health. The gender imbalance, that is the ratio of women to men, is far worse in the North and West of our country than in the East and the South. The Western region has much to learn from the Eastern region in this sphere of innovative projects and programmes …For example, the visionary Kannyasree scheme of West Bengal’s Chief Minister Kumari Mamata Banerjee presages the Central Government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Badhao campaign. Her highly successful Jal Dharo, Jal Bharo programme for water security holds lessons for the proposed Pradhanmantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana… The Central Government would be well advised to follow West Bengal’s lead in becoming an enabler for modern Madrasa education with a minimum of State interference. There has been a new sunrise in the East that can light up the path to India’s future.

Of greatest concern to us on the federal question is what the Government has had to say on the issue of infiltration and illegal immigrants. This is a highly sensitive matter bearing on relations with our neighbours on which the States must be fully consulted and taken into confidence. We must never allow, West Bengal will never permit, the language of citizenship to be used as a façade for antiminority prejudice. We also want to know the mechanisms through which States can contribute to the formulation of the proposed National Education Policy. I agree with Dr. Thambi Durai who is in the Chair today and who spoke from here yesterday that the States must play a pre-eminent role in the field of education.

The huge disparity in funding for State and Central Universities and educational institutions must be bridged in the interests of our youth and youth development. It will not suffice to simply build IITs and IIMs in various States. We have to build world class universities on the solid foundation of primary and secondary school education.

Mr. Chairman Sir, permit me to say a heartfelt word or two about the Government’s plan to clean the River Ganga, a noble and worthy project. We hail from the great delta where the mighty tributaries of the Ganga flow into the sea.

We have grown up singing Dwijendralal Roy’s song, Patitodharini Gange, Ogo Ma, Patitodharini Gange. Even the worst sinner, it is said, can find redemption with a dip in its holy waters. The river is our mother in Bengal as much as it is for the residents of Benares. You will be happy to know that our poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam did not write just about the Ganga. He sang: Ganga Sindhu Narmada Kaberi Jamuna oi, bohia cholechche ager mato, koi se ager manush koi. The Ganga and the other great rivers flow on as before: where are the human beings of yesteryears? That poetic lament laced with nostalgia is probably more poignant now than it was in Nazrul Islam’s time. But it is the lines sung in the immortal voice of Bhupen Hazarika that is haunting me today: Bistirna duparer asankhya manusher hahakar shuneo, nishabde nirabe o Ganga tumi, Ganga boichcho keno?

The term ‘hahakar’ was used by Sushma Ji. If we cannot hear the hahakar, the cries of despair of the Dalit women subjected to brutal violence in the Gangetic plains, we cannot claim to be true representatives of the people of India. And far away from the Gangetic plains, we mourn the death of Mohsin Sheikh, the young computer engineer in Pune. He belonged to the so-called aspirational class whose dreams for the future had been fired by the election campaign of the ruling party. He did not live to see the achche din, the good times, which this Government promises to usher in. His only fault was that he wore his identity in his headgear and attire as he returned home after praying to the Almighty. Hockey sticks that had once done our nation proud in the world of sports were used as weapons to bludgeon the expression of diversity.

The composition of the 16th Lok Sabha does not reflect the rich diversity of India as well as it should. That is why, it is our special duty and responsibility to give voice to the needs and aspirations of underrepresented minorities. If you truly want to be the harbinger of good times, I would say to the Government, do not confuse uniformity with unity, majoritarianism with democracy. In his famous essay Bharatvarsha, Rabindranth had alerted us: “Where there is genuine difference, it is only by respecting that difference and restraining it in its proper place, that it is possible to achieve unity. Unity cannot be achieved by issuing legal fiats that everybody is one.” Only by nurturing a healthy reverence for cultural difference can we invite everyone to unite at the feet of the Mother: “Eso he Hindu, eso Musalman, eso he Parasi, Bouddha, Christian, milo ho Mayer charane.”I will just leave you with an image when the Bengal revolutionary leader, Shri Subhash Chandra Bose, went to Gujarat at Haripura to preside over the Indian National Congress. … He and Mahatma Gandhi together fused the vision of a modern industrial future with the idyll of agrarian India. Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel were also there. … (Interruptions) Let us follow their lead and say to the Mother that we will work that she may prosper and suffer that she may rejoice.

Mr. Chairman, I am done.


Thank you very much.