By Anjan Barua
The Late Hem Barua was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1957 for the first time. He was then 42 years old and was elected on the Praja Socialist Party ticket. The PSP had veterans like Jay Prakash rayan, Acharya Kriplani, Hari Vishnu Kamath and th Pai. In fact the trio Kamath, th Pai and Hem Barua were in the top ten Parliamentarians of that time along with Jawaharlal Nehru, Acharya Kripalini and Hiren Mukherjee. The Hindustan Times described the threesome, Pai, Kamath and Barua, as the three musketeers.
Before Hem Barua left for New Delhi in 1957 to take oath as MP, his close friend from Tezpur advised him not only to raise the issues facing Assam but also focus equally on tiol and intertiol issues. Further he advised Barua to focus his debating skills on PM Nehru for that would be the acid test. During his tenure, Hem Barua made more than 800 speeches on domestic and intertiol topics which had long term socio-economic impact.
To be an effective Member of Parliament, that too as a member of the Opposition, was not an easy task. The debates were of extremely high standard for if the Opposition had its stalwarts, the Treasury bench also had a galaxy of tiol leaders. mes like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Humayun Kabir, V.K.R.V. Rao, M.C. Chagla, V.K. Krish Menon come to my mind. Thus Hem Barua spent a great deal of time in mustering facts and figures, framing questions and preparing speeches. MPs at that time had no secretarial help and that meant reading large number of newspapers and magazines to harvest data on his own.
The Zero Hour in Parliament was immediately after the Question Hour which started at 11 in the morning. Hem Barua made maximum use of Zero Hour to raise issues of tiol importance and issues pertaining to Assam. Question Hour was dedicated to various ministries and MPs could raise questions specific to that ministry. Members were permitted to raise the question followed by a supplementary question. Hem Barua got around this restriction by breaking his question into (a), (b), (c).... Mr. Nehru would often tease Barua by uttering 'a,b,c...' as Barua rose to ask his question. In fact, once Mr Nehru expressed his helplessness to the Speaker in replying to Barua’s question as it was too lengthy. Nehru said, ‘Sir, the honorable member has asked such a lengthy question that I remember only the tail of it'. The Speaker then permitted Nehru to reply to the 'tail' of that question!
In his tenure in the Lok Sabha, three notable interventions by Hem Barua in Parliament come to my mind. The first one was the agitation for the Guwahati Refinery. Nehru had declared that satyagraha will not achieve anything. Later on, when the movement for the Refinery met with success, Hem Barua reminded Nehru that the satyagraha movement did deliver. It may be mentioned here that the Saraighat Bridge, N.F.Railway Headquarters, Guwahati Tea Auction Centre and the mrup Fertilizer Company are some of the contributions of Hem Barua. In fact, I may be excused if I claim that Hem Barua laid the economic foundation of modern Assam.
The second major intervention was the resigtion of K.D. Malaviya, the then Union Minister of Petroleum and Chemicals, after the charge of corruption made by Hem Barua was proved. In that debate, which was indeed a heated one, Malaviya challenged Barua and in reply, Barua said that he will resign from Parliament if he is proved wrong. The charges were proved and Malaviya had to resign from the Union Cabinet. This incident established Hem Barua as a Parliamentarian of repute.
The third major intervention was the occupation of Tibet by Chi and subsequent aggression by Chi on India in 1962. I would not like to elaborate on the Chinese aggression as there are many articles on the subject. In the India-Chi papers which covers the period 1947 to 1977 published by ncy Jetly, a student of Stanford University, there have been frequent references to Hem Barua’s repeated warnings on the designs of Chi several years before the actual Chinese aggression. However Nehru took the assurances made by his counterpart Chou-en-Lai at face value, little realizing that in diplomacy, like in politics, there are no permanent friends but only permanent tiol interests. In one of the moments of frustration with Nehru’s indifference, Hem Barua remarked that ‘in matters of Pakistan and Chi, Nehru behaved like an umpire rather than as the Prime Minister of the country'. On another occasion when Nehru was extolling the virtues of coexistence and Panch-sheel, Hem Barua asked how can a lion (Chi) and lamb, meaning the Indian Government, coexist? When the Chinese aggression was on, a worried Hem Barua suggested to the Government to seek help from friendly countries to repel the aggression to the altertive of accepting the Chinese ceasefire conditions ‘at whatever cost'. Nehru did write to President Kennedy seeking military assistance in November 1962. It is pertinent to note that Chi unilaterally stopped the war and withdrew 20 km from the actual line of control in December 1962 .Thus NEFA now Aruchal Pradesh and Assam were saved.
However it was not always serious business in Parliament. They did have moments of distractions and humor. Speaking on the debate on the Ministry of Education, Barua once stressed the need to blend culture and education. He mentioned the need to emphasize the three R’s in education, reading, writing and arithmetic to wean away the youth ‘from Rock n Roll and Rum'. Likewise, he wanted the Government to retain the me of Beres Hindu University and quoted Shakespeare 'What’s in a me ...' and brought the House down by remarking that mes should be short and sweet like ‘Hem Barua’. On another occasion, when Nehru remarked that in a democracy the Opposition enjoyed the right to speak nonsense, Barua interjected to remark ‘you too have that privilege'. It is not possible to critically examine the contribution made by Hem Barua as a Parliamentarian for the range of subjects he spoke on was vast. Unfortutely, even after four decades, none of our universities and their research scholars have thought it worthwhile to delve into the Parliamentary debates and examine the role of Hem Barua as a Parliamentarian. I hope some day some brave heart will take the plunge.