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A Veteran Reminisces

Ajit Bhattacharjea

By Hiren Mukerjee
Vikas, New Delhi, 1977, 165, 35.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 6 November-December 1977

Hiren Mukerjee is a queer bird. I am tempted to use the phrase, with its P.G. Wodehouse flavour, because he might well have used it to describe himself. It suits his evocative, metaphorical, often devastatingly penetrating, if some­what dated, literary style. It also fits a personality who for 25 years was verbally the most fiery and uncompromising Communist spokesman in the Lok Sabha, while remaining outside one of that fast vanishing breed: the gentle, considerate democrat, always ready to consider an opposite point of view and respect those maintaining it, even if they were beyond the pale in ideological terms. It is the second Hiren that infuses his Portrait of Parliament with a feel for  the pulse of the institution, enlivened by vivid pen portraits of many who have played major and minor roles in it. Inevitably, the account is nostalgic. Political parties could still afford to nominate a large number of candidates who were not professional politicians, but who had achieved eminence in other areas of activity, when he was elected to the first Parliament in 1952. As the struggle for power, or at least the patron­age and influence that a Member of Parliament commands, became fierce, other qualifications became progressively less important. This is neither unnatural nor unfortunate. Politics is principally concerned with power; those skilled at it are bound to dominate Parliament, whether for good or ill. Some of the personalities who adorned the first Parliament did not necessarily contribute much to its effectiveness. They did, however, contribute an atmos­phere of scholarship and grace. The author recalls, for instance, that ‘a joint select committee scrutinizing the Univer­sity Grants Commission Bill (1955) boasted a composition now inconceivable: Meghnad Saha and Zakir Hussain and Ramaswami Mudaliar, Panduram Vaman  Kane and Radha Kumud Mookerjee ...’ It is possible to speculate that the author himself may not have entered Parliament if he had not been originally nominated in 1952. As the names he chooses indicate, Mukerjee’s evaluation of excellence is not inhibited by ideological considera­tions. He does not hesitate to name Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who represented the Hindu Mahasabha and the Jan Sangh, as the most accomplished parliamentarian seen in the House and has nice things to say even about the arch-conservative Sir Arcot Ramaswami Mudaliar and, of more recent parliamentary vintage, Piloo Mody ‘whose gargantuan presence in the Lok Sabha was a visual and sometimes also aural ...

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