A kangaroo court in Gopialand

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A semi-literate speaker should walk around with a dictionary. This is not an insult but a helpful suggestion as s/he may need to use it more often than the rest of us. Before deciding that the word “shame” is unparliamentary, for example, flipping through the pages of a dictionary would have yielded the following: Shame: 1. a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour; 2. a regrettable or unfortunate situation or action. In South Africa, the word “shame” is even used to express sentimental pleasure, especially at something small and endearing.

In a court of law, there is not a single chance in hell of a speaker convincing the magistrate that the word “shame” is offensive or that it warrants any disciplinary action of any sort. But we are not in a court of law and the person presiding is not a magistrate or a judge. We are in a kangaroo court presided over by a speaker who sees no dishonour in being partial or in running the National Assembly in an unfair and undemocratic way.

In a kangaroo court, the desired outcome is not fairness or impartiality. It is pleasing the person who appointed you at any cost. The name of the game is mercilessly trampling democracy while a semblance of the democratic game is being played. It is an act easy to achieve once you have thrown your dignity and the honour associated with the function you are exercising out of the window. So parliamentarians are allowed to ask questions so that we can compare ourselves to Westminster. But the questions are screened, sometimes disallowed or altered and ministers can dodge them as much as they want and give irrelevant, endless answers to questions that were not asked. The opposition members have to listen and when time is up, it is up whether the question has been answered or not. When there is the slightest danger of touching a raw nerve, the speaker steps in and puts an end to it, sometimes throwing members of the opposition out, or naming them to make sure they cause no trouble for a few weeks!

So this week, the speaker decided that “shame” is so unparliamentary that an apology is not enough to repair the damage caused. MP Shakeel Mohamed had to leave the National Assembly and MP Rajesh Bhagwan was named. You will have noticed that, the same week, the British speaker in Westminster calmly and politely asked an opposition member to withdraw the words “the Pinocchio prime minister”, which he did and the debate continued. “Shame” must be a real four-letter word, so much more offensive than Pinocchio that no apology or withdrawing of the word can be accepted!

The same word uttered by a government member the same day is, on the other hand, fine and acceptable. Or it wasn’t heard. Nor were the words “malélevé” and “Batiara” that were raining from the government side. A real kangaroo court, I tell you!

When the speaker is openly partial, with one ear blocked and the other one wide open; when the police commissioner’s offenders’ list is restricted almost entirely to those who are opposed to the government; when the use of the word “Gopia” warrants a whole police arsenal while those who are stealing billions of taxpayers’ money are sleeping undisturbed; when small people sneaking some street food into their hungry mouths are handsomely fined while a photo of the prime minister posing with a large group of unmasked chatwas is doing the rounds without eliciting the slightest reaction from the police; when municipal elections are postponed once more while some ministers are openly breaking the law used to postpone them; when the police ignore the ruling of the Supreme Court; when the electoral commissioner defends an outdated electoral system and takes a frontal dig at the leader of the opposition; when those close to power are squandering public funds while the rest are called upon to ser sinter… then you know that you are in Gopialand, my friend. Accept the ruling of the kangaroo court and get used to it!

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