Shameful nadir

Indian Parliament hit a new disastrous and shameful nadir in its functioning when an MP, L Rajagopal, used pepper spray to disrupt its proceedings.

Another one was accused of wielding a knife, though he claimed he was using only a plucked microphone. The Lok Sabha witnessed street battle scenes with two groups of MPs battling it out in the well of the House, with one trying to stall the introduction of the controversial Telangana bill and the other trying to restrain them. Even the Speaker was disoriented by the pepper warfare and some MPs had to be taken to hospital. It was unthinkable that weapons would be brought from outside to disrupt Parliament. It has seen stalling, uproars and even physical confrontations in the past but Thursday saw the worst attack on its dignity.

The MP who attacked others with pepper is guilty of criminal and offensive conduct and the grossest disrespect for parliament. His comrades-in-arms are also no less culpable. But the responsibility for taking the situation to this pass rests squarely  with the government and the Congress party which are trying to ram a most divisive measure through the House. They had been amply forewarned of the ugly shape of things to come with resignations, protests and suicide threats. Some Congress MPs, including Rajagopal, had been expelled from the party but they had made it clear that they would continue with their disruptive ways. Even the ministers had joined them the previous day, marking a breakdown of the collective responsibility of the cabinet and the political authority of the party. Still the government went ahead with its one-point Telangana agenda without ensuring enough support for it, let alone a consensus.
That would however not justify the reprehensible conduct of a few members. MPs and parties have increasingly resorted to disruption over the years, making a mockery of parliament. The time to think of measures to ensure its smooth functioning is long overdue. The Speaker’s powers are not heeded and often not used. Stricter security checks and automatic expulsion of disruptive elements may be proposed but it is doubtful whether they will be accepted. All parties have used disruption as a weapon for their own ends. Any measure which will be seen as helping the government to ride roughshod over the opposition will also be rejected. The dignity and effectiveness of parliament ultimately rests on respect for it, which unfortunately is not in evidence. 

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