On his 133rd birth anniversary, ThePrint examines G.V. Mavalankar’s role as the first Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
On 15 May 1952, the first session of Lok Sabha, Jawaharlal Nehru faced a unique challenge. Getting 17.32 crore people to set foot outside their houses to put the ballot paper, printed in the same place as the Indian currency, in one of the many differently-coloured ballot boxes for each candidate kept in the polling booth was no easy task. It was what India needed for its first-ever elections that began on 25 October 1951. But now that the new crop of leaders of independent India was chosen to represent in the ‘House of the People’, the Lok Sabha needed its own guiding light — a Speaker who could live up to the ‘tryst with destiny’ promised to India on the eve of 15 August 1947.
Perhaps gleaming from the satisfaction of hearing the support from 394 members of the ‘people’s parliament’ but also feeling the responsibility of upholding a democracy on his shoulders, Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar stood at the Speaker’s Chair and said: “…The extent to which persons holding different points of view, or ideologies exhibit the qualities of tolerance, ‘give and take,’ and make an effort to understand the differing points of view, to that extent only, the parliamentary government stands the chance of being successful. It is not so much the laws or the regulations that will bring the desired results, as the spirit in which the persons charged with responsibility act towards each other.”
And this is how G.V. Mavalankar came to be named, by none other than Nehru, the “father of Lok Sabha”.
Former President of India R. Venkataraman once said about Mavalankar, “The Treasury Benches could not take him for granted and were always alert. His rulings were well-informed, weighty and unassailable and stand out even to this day as specimens of wisdom and impartiality. He was, indeed, a model Speaker, firm yet flexible, stern yet kind and sympathetic, and always fair to all sections of the House.”
Nicknamed “Dadasaheb,” Mavalankar was known for his neutrality and being a ‘non-party man’ as he had defined the role of Speaker in 1937 itself.
Some of his far-sighted initiatives have been part of the parliament for a long long time. The introduction of lively ‘Question-hour’ was done by Mavalankar, where he made it possible to hold his own party, the Indian National Congress, accountable for their work.
While the Speaker’s role has often been questioned in recent times, Mavalankar remains a prime example, often disagreeing with the Prime Minister and putting the nation’s wellbeing at the forefront. For example, on the issue of ordinance, Nehru and Mavalankar had very different views. Mavalankar said, “it is not a democratic way of doing things, and it is only in exceptional circumstances that the government may issue ordinances. They can, only when they must”.
Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, S. L. Shakdhar, once recollected an incident where Mavalankar restricted Nehru from giving a second statement because it was in contravention to the Lok Sabha rules. Nehru gracefully bowed to the ruling. It was one of the many incidents when the Speaker overruled the Prime Minister.
Rise to prominence in Indian legislature
Mavalankar’s legislative journey began in 1919 when he was first elected to Ahmedabad Municipality at the age of 31, becoming president for two stints in 1930-33 and 1935-36. The presidency of Ahmedabad Municipality was also held by eminent leaders like Sardar Patel much earlier.
In 1937, Mavalnakar was elected to the Bombay Legislative Assembly. While politicians remain ministers and MPs for decades, Mavalankar’s long journey of being the finest Speaker in Indian history began in this assembly, the very same year.
He remained the speaker of the assembly till 1945, after which Congress decided to take him to the national level as their candidate for the election of the ‘President (Speaker) of Central Legislative Assembly’ in 1946. The Central Legislative Assembly was the lower House of British India. It comprised of members of the British government, European group, Muslim league, Congress, among others. The British government had put forward Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, supported by the European group and the Muslim League. Cowasjee’s name was proposed by none other than Liaquat Ali khan — Pakistan’s first prime minister, and Mavalankar as the Congress’ candidate by Sarat Chandra Bose — Subhas Chandra Bose’s brother — and Manu Subedar. While everyone expected Cowasjee to win the election, Mavalankar won it 66-63 and remained the Speaker until midnight on 14 August 1947.
On 17 November 1947, he was unanimously elected as Speaker of the Constituent Assembly and took over the chair of the House from Dr Rajendra Prasad. After the implementation of the Constitution on 26 January 1950, the Constituent Assembly was changed into the provisional Parliament. Following the elections of 1951-52, one of the largest exercises of its kind, a new Lok Sabha was formed. In the first election to the post of Speaker, Nehru’s Congress proposed the name G.V. Mavalankar against the Opposition’s S.S. More. Mavalankar won by overwhelming 394 ‘ayes’ in a house of 499 members against 55 ‘nays’.
Law background and activism
Mavalankar was born on 27 November 1888 in Baroda, Gujarat. He received his early education from Bombay University and completed his Bachelor of Arts when he was 20 from Gujarat Arts and Science College, Ahmedabad. Like many eminent politicians and freedom fighters of his time, he went to study law and earned his degree in 1912. He started practising law a year later and became successful in a short period of time. Throughout his life, Dadasaheb was deeply involved in social work. He became president of Gujarat education society in the year 1913.
He met Sardar Patel in 1914 and Gandhi the following year, who drew him closer to the freedom movement and the Indian National Congress. Between 1921 and 22, Mavalankar left his practice and became the secretary of the Gujarat Provincial Congress. In 1927, when Gujarat was hit by heavy floods, he once again left his legal practice to devote himself to the service of the people.
In 1928, the European principal of Gujarat college, where Mavalankar had studied, decided to punish students who had submitted blank papers during the terminal examination. The examination happened to be on the day of the Simon Commission’s visit, as they were welcomed with slogans of ‘Simon Go Back’ and protests across the country. Many students either didn’t give the examination or left it blank as a mark of protest. Mavalankar, now an alumni, gave his support to 750 protesting students and decided to lead the protest in order to show them the way forward. This strike against the principal, which had the blessings of Gandhi, continued for 35 days and eventually turned in the student’s favour. Thus began his journey towards the greater cause of Indian independence with a win for the students and himself.
As part of the freedom struggle, Dadasaheb went to jail several times, including as part of the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1940, and after the Quit India resolution was passed on 8 August 1942. He was jailed for a total of six years across different years.
Mavalankar passed away on 27 February 1956, while he was still the Speaker of Lok Sabha. His service to the nation and democracy at large, however, is recognised less than it deserves to be. Former Lok Sabha MP, S.N. Sinha, rightly remembered him as “both the child of the freedom movement and the father of the great traditions of parliamentary democracy”.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)