A small, shameful history of unparliamentary behaviour
Day two of parliament’s winter session was frustratingly predictable. Both the houses adjourned until Monday without discussing important bills. As lawmakers shouted slogans and rushed to the centre of the assemblies to pressure the speaker and the government on contentious issues, it felt like past instances of protests in various state assemblies across the country.
Ranging from quirky to disgusting, these actions by elected lawmakers justify references to India as a noisy and unruly democracy. Have a look at this collection of greatest “hits”:
- Lawmakers in state assemblies have a penchant for picking up microphones, tables and chairs and throwing them at the speaker or their opposing colleagues. In December 2011, Congress lawmakers in the state of Odisha’s assembly nearly flung a chair at the speaker, ironically while protesting the state of law and order. In February 2009, legislators hurled microphones and paper balls at the speaker in Uttar Pradesh state assembly over the murder of a government official. This was déjà vu – the same scenes had occurred in 1997 as well.
- Perhaps the most innovative way of stopping a bill from becoming law happened in the Rajya Sabha, or the upper house of parliament (they call it India’s house of elders). One lawmaker from Bihar, Rajniti Prasad, rose from his seat in the winter session last December, walked up to the minister who was reading from the draft of the much-debated Lokpal anti-corruption bill, snatched the papers in his hands and calmly tore them up.
- In 1989, a DMK lawmaker allegedly tried to pull off the sari of then opposition leader J. Jayalalithaa (she is the chief minister of the state now) in the state assembly of Tamil Nadu.
- Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Hanuman Beniwal threw so-called parliamentary language out of the Rajasthan assembly house earlier this year when he abused a Congress party minister during a debate in language reportedly laced with expletives. Beniwal, who was suspended in 2010 for a verbal spat with another minister in the assembly, was suspended for a year for his verbal diatribe which, apparently, can’t be printed as it would be considered an insult to the house.
- On Sept. 3 this year, a Jharkhand state assembly lawmaker ripped off his shirt a la actor Salman Khan, though it did not result in any box office record being broken. Jharkhand Vikas Morcha – Prajatantrik (democratic) party’s Samresh Singh ripped his shirt to press his demands on the speaker. The house was adjourned for an hour.
- In the Rajya Sabha (house of elders, remember?), opposing regional party lawmakers from the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came to blows in September this year when a bill on quotas in promotions for backward castes and tribes in government jobs was introduced.
BSP MP Avtar Singh Karimpuri grabbed SP MP Naresh Agrawal’s collar and the two ended up pushing each other as rest of elders watched.
- The Jammu and Kashmir assembly has been witness to some memorable incidents as well.
While the present speaker of Lok Sabha (parliament’s lower house) is known to be extremely gentle with out-of-line legislators, the J&K assembly speaker verbally abused a lawmaker on the floor of the house in October last year. Not to be outdone, the lawmaker, leader of opposition Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain from People’s Democratic Party, threw a table-top fan at the speaker. Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone later apologised.
- In July 2010, a woman legislator from Congress engaged in dramatic show of strength when she broke flowerpots in Bihar assembly complex, demanding the resignation of state chief minister Nitish Kumar over alleged financial irregularities. Then a legislator threw his slipper at the speaker over the issue.
- West Bengal’s outspoken chief minister Mamata Banerjee took her street-style fighting spirit to parliament in 1997 when she threw her shawl at the then Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan for ignoring her state in the annual rail budget. Speaker PA Sangma apparently hollered at her, asking her to apologise or get out of the house, but to no avail.
- As if that was not enough, she threw her resignation letter at the deputy speaker of Lok Sabha Charanjit Singh Atwal in August 2005 when her adjournment motion was rejected.
My memory runs thin and I am unable to gather more such incidents, big and small. But with cooperation seemingly absent this winter session, some more hurling, abusing, jostling, fighting etc. might contribute to the stuff that bitter memories are made of.