Thus spake Sir Joshi

The Shiv Sena had to sacrifice one of its seniormost and dynamic leaders when Mr. Manohar Gajanan Joshi assumed the prestigious office of the speaker of the 13th Lok Sabha last week. The third Maharashtrian to become Speaker, Mr. Joshi is an old hand at legislative affairs. He has played this game for the past few decades in the civic corporation, in the state legislature and the Lok Sabha. Credited to be an ideal candidate for the post because of his balanced views, good sense of humour and the rapport he shares with all MPs, Mr. Joshi is, however, already being referred in Delhi's political circles as the 'remote-controlled' speaker. RENU MITTAL corners this friendly speaker 'Sir' in Delhi barely a week since he took up the hot seat in Parliament.

The new Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi's bio-data has a motto which says "If you work, luck will work for you..."

Lady Luck certainly appears to have smiled and that too broadly, on the 64-year-old Maharashtra leader who has suddenly been catapulted into the national limelight having won the race for the prestigious post of the Lok Sabha Speaker. After being mayor of Mumbai, opposition leader in the Maharashtra legislative assembly, chief minister of Maharashtra and Union minister for heavy industry, Mr. Joshi takes over the Lok Sabha at a difficult time when the communal Hindutva agenda of the ruling BJP and the communal riots in Gujarat have split the polity down the middle.

His party the Shiv Sena's Hindutva agenda is even more pronounced than the BJP's but Joshi has promised to remain neutral and above party politics as he gets down to the brasstacks of managing a difficult House. Particularly since the Congress, the Left and other opposition parties are deeply cut up about his elevation as the Speaker.

He is already being referred to by opposition political parties as the "remote controlled Speaker" a pointed reference to Bal Thackeray's tendency to call the shots, even long distance. However, Mr. Joshi clarifies his position and makes it clear that he is not going to be "remote-controlled" by anyone. Excerpts from the interview:

You have taken over when there is visible acrimony in the House over the ruling party's Hindutva agenda and the communal violence in Gujarat. How do you propose to manage the show?
Yes, it is true that the situation in the country as well as in the Lok Sabha is not very easy. But, since I know the duties of the Speaker and also know that the Speaker has to be impartial, I have told my leader Balasaheb Thackeray that I will have to be impartial all the time whether inside the House or outside the House. As a matter of fact you will be surprised to know that he himself has told me to remain impartial and increase the dignity of the Speaker's post. So I don't think I will have any difficult in handling the House.

There are apprehensions that on key issues you may have to go back to Mr. Thackeray to get his clearance. Comment?
I am absolutely free to function independently as a Speaker. I have no doubts in my mind on that. Mr. Thackeray knows very well when the "remote control" is to be used and when it is not to be used. I'm confident he will happily allow me to take my own decisions.

How do you feel about the repeated reference to "remote control". Can you not get rid of such a tag?
(Laughs). I have always been telling people that in every party there are "High Commands" or party leaders. Mr. Thackeray gave me full liberty to function as a chief minister so there is no question of him interfering in my duties as a Speaker. Every Speaker belongs to some political party.

Since there had been no consensus on your name, do you foresee rough weather between you and the opposition?
I was elected uncontested but there have been contests in the election of Speakers in the past. So when those Speakers who were elected after contests could function well and run the House smoothly, then I who have been elected uncontested would be able to work smoothly. In our democracy, though you may belong to any political party, once you are elected as Speaker, you have to be impartial.

What would be your priorities. Do you see yourself contributing to issues which past Speakers may not have done?
My agenda after becoming the Speaker would be to run the House smoothly, allow the government to run its business, take the members into confidence and allow the interests of the common people to be safeguarded.

There are reports that the Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan was not happy with your elevation as Speaker. Do you think you will have problems working with him?
I don't think that is true. Mr. Mahajan has been a very good friend and even during my election he saw to it that I got elected. There is absolutely no problem between me and Mr. Mahajan and I don't think there will be any problems working with him.

There is a growing conflict between the BJP's Hindutva agenda (which is similar to the Sena's agenda) and the rest of the NDA allies who want to play it down. How do you see this situation developing?
The common agenda for all the parliamentarians is their own country. The other agendas are not as important as the interest of the country and if that is imbibed in the minds of the parliamentarians, which broadly is what they also believe, then I don't think there are any deep differences which cannot be resolved.

What you are talking about is an ideal situation. But, what is actually happening on the ground?
One must always try and find the ideal situation.

But, does it exist?
I agree, it's a rough road but I have always walked and worked in rough situations and I don't have any problems living with difficulties.

Can we say that as long as you are in the Speaker's chair you would shed your Hindutva agenda and not make your political programmes a part of your Speakership?
I cannot do that. No Speaker has done it. No Speaker has looked back at his political party. I have to see to the general interest of the country and the smooth functioning of Parliament. My only agenda would be to work for the country.

It would not be wrong to call this the crowning glory of your political career. Is there anything you are looking at beyond this which remains unfulfilled?
I have been very fortunate. I was the mayor of Mumbai. I became the chief minister of Maharashtra and then a Union minister. The horizon went on increasing. When I do a certain job I try to see that the job is done in the best possible manner. If I am the Speaker, I should try to be the best Speaker which Parliament has had. I don't look beyond this to which post should be given to me in future. Today I have yet to prove myself as Speaker.

Are there any fulfilled ambitions?
I have quoted in my first speech in Parliament and I always remember Mahatma Gandhi who said, who can be the last man on the step. And I always keep that 'last man' in my mind and whenever non-issues are discussed. The members of my constituency who have sent me here are looking at me. And, if I can do something for them from the post I hold today, I would be the happiest man.

Speculation has started about who would be the next president of India. The Shiv Sena is backing Dr. P. C. Alexander the present Governor of Maharashtra. How would you react to Mr. K. R. Narayanan continuing for a second term?
I would not like to go into this subject. This is for political parties to decide. Whoever is elected, he would be be the president.