The Role of the Opposition

UNHEALTHY: The current trend of preferring to function without an Opposition is dangerous — to the public that is faced with an unchecked government, and to the ruling party itself, which functions like a business czar surrounded by ‘yes men’ — one step away from unseen disaster

By Bhasker Assoldekar

In a democracy the role of the Opposition is to constructively criticize the policies and programs of the government and make the government to work in accordance with the public good. The Opposition’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to public.

As we pass through arguably one of the biggest turmoils in the history of Goa Assembly, my thoughts take me back to an incident in the rainy season of 1964 — exactly 55 years ago.
Late in the evening, at the end of the day’s proceedings in the Assembly at Panjim, an MLA from South Goa (I’m not revealing his identity intentionally, so as to maintain his dignity) in the then ruling MGP Party had a brief discussion with an UGP MLA from Margao who owned a car, and immediately got into the back seat of the car with him, right outside Adil Khan’s Palace (the Assembly site then).
They drove straight to Margao in a hurry. He not only stayed overnight with the UGP MLA at his residence in Margao but even had the audacity of driving back with him to the Assembly the next day!
Next day, this news spread across the Assembly like a wild fire. The then CM Bandodkar was furious. He called the MLA to his chambers and in his unique style, verbally fired him for the “unpardonable act” of hobnobbing with the enemy! The CM’s typical question to MLA was, “which Goddess your family believes in ?” When the MLA was asked to “swear by the name of the Goddess” that he was not joining the Opposition and managing a coup, the MLA started sobbing and then told his part of the story.
This is what he said, “ Bhau, yesterday, the Assembly session got over at 7 pm. The last bus to Margao was at 7.30 pm. If I was to take that bus, I would not have been able to get the last bus from Margao to my home town in South Goa. I checked up if I could join him in the car. He said it is fine. When we reached Margao bus stand, the last bus for the day to my home town had already left and it was raining very heavily. I didn’t have enough money Bhau to stay in the hotel, so I accepted the offer of staying overnight at his place! Since he was anyway coming to Assembly Session today, I joined him today also. I am very sorry, Bhau!!”
Yes, there were only seven or eight MLAs who had cars back then! All the rest attended sessions by taking public transport! Even today, as I recall this incident, I get goosebumps at the sheer innocence and the sense of commitment with which Goa’s MLAs behaved and acted back then!
Look at the typical fatherly but naive approach of Bhau asking him to “swear by the Goddess”! And once he swore that was taken as “Absolute Truth” with no further questions! Bhau also apparently rushed to the Margao MLA (who was his personal friend) to apologise for the allegation he himself had made! He had felt guilty! Look at the simplicity of the MLAs then!
Certainly a lot of water has flown under the Mandovi bridge since then. The walls of the Old Vidhan Sabha and the new one, as also the private chambers of ministers and MLAs have been mute witness to this paradigm shift in the morality, ethics and Goenkarponn of most of our current representatives.
The true function of any Opposition, is to keep the Government on its toes and to prevent misuse of the power. This can be effectively performed only when there is discipline, a sense of responsibility, a sense of belongingness to the state of Goa, sincerity, and above all a determination to give top most priority to Goa’s interests as against personal interests.
In the ‘60s & ‘70s Goa had a well balanced mix of MLAs representing various strata of Goan society, including freedom fighters, doctors, teachers, agriculturists, advocates etc. However, in this Assembly 37 out of the 40 MLAs have ‘Business’ as their profession. It is not surprising therefore, that as in business, the maximisation of ‘Returns on Investment’ (ROI) in the limited available time is the sole objective.
It is the prime duty of the ruling party (government) to take lessons in maintaining healthy relations with the Opposition party. It should recognize healthy and effective Opposition. It is also the responsibility of the Government to ensure that an effective and viable Opposition is allowed to function to keep Democracy alive.
The Opposition’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to the Goan public. The Opposition is equally responsible in upholding the best interests of the people of Goa. They have to ensure that the Government does not take any steps, which might have negative implications on the people of Goa, simply because they have an absolute mandate. The Opposition should keep the government on its toes and ensure good governance. Every government requires checks and balances which can only come from quality Opposition on the floor of the Assembly or by a public mass movement.
Liberated Goa’s limited history of 58 years, tells us that Opinion Poll, Demand for Statehood or Demand for Konkani as State language, materialised not because of a Government but despite it. It was only possible because of the Opposition party fighting it out with the support of the Goan masses.
Goa requires now a strong and competent Opposition on the floor of the House. Here, size does not matter. More important is the quality of the Opposition. But to be effective and relevant, perhaps the remaining Opposition MLAs will have to work overtime with higher level of dedication, discipline and determination than the way they worked when they were in the ruling party as ministers or chief ministers!
Our earlier generation might not have been highly qualified. They might not have been exposed to rest of the world the way we are. But they ensured in their limited knowledge & wisdom that Goa will continue to remain under its own identity (Opinion Poll). Are we leaving the same clean (ethically and otherwise) and verdant Goa to our next generation?? Certainly not!
It is also time, for every right thinking Goan to start doing self introspection and question themselves as to where our generation has gone wrong and how soon we get back on track. Goa’s Opposition supported by Goan masses should ensure that current government remains on its toes and remains answerable only to Goans. It is time that people from every constituency make their MLA “answerable” for every act of theirs.
Just a stray thought — We can continue to blame our elected representatives for their current behaviour, but have we collectively also failed in our duty of making them answerable to us?
We certainly don’t need a rocket scientist to answer this!

(Bhasker Assoldekar is Goa State Coordinator, Association for Democratic Reforms)

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