When Parliament held its breath!

When Parliament held its breath!

Only about a month back, we saw on television scenes of Turkish MPs throwing folders, bottles, even an iPad at each other in their Parliament leaving one member with broken fingers and another with a bloodied nose. Fast forward by a month and we have the world laughing at us – the largest democracy on earth – for our MPs don’t just indulge in fisticuffs but break glass furniture and fumigate each other with pepper spray!

The ‘little brotherly brawl’ that our Union Ministers engaged in over the creation of Telangana recently has not just left the common man dumbfounded but even veterans of the Indian Parliament searching for words. Long-serving secretary-generals of the Lok Sabha and distinguished Constitutional experts – Subhash C Kashyap and PDT Achary – say this incident was “unprecedented” and “should have never taken place.”

“Snatching of papers, uprooting mikes and creating disturbance (by MPs) have been a regular feature in both the Houses for some time, but this kind of an incident is a first in my 40 years of working with the Parliament,” says Subhash Kashyap, “The standards of our democratic traditions have been falling steadily, thanks to politicians look- ing for personal benefits all the time and even using criminals for it. Congress knew very well that tabling this Bill will reap it electoral dividends, hence it went for it. The fact that it has some henchmen in its fold only helped.”

An analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) recently showed that 30 per cent of our sitting Lok Sabha MPs have criminal cases against them. Kashyap adds there are remedies for MPs acting unruly in the House -- expulsion, jailing etc -- but parties tend to settle it among themselves in lieu of “favours.” “Unfortunately, the Constitution was written by gentlemen, for gentlemen. They did not envisage such a situation. Hence, there are no solutions for a House unwilling to punish the rowdy in its midst,” he laments.

PDT Achary wonders why ‘unparliamentary’ comments by MPs are expunged and the live telecast of proceedings interrupted when such ‘brawls’ take place. “The whole purpose of a Lok Sabha TV is defeated in doing this. People should get to see what their elected representatives do once they reach the Parliament,” he says. As for the poor impression we give to the world when such incidents take place, Achary recalled, “During my tenure, there was even talk of stopping foreign delegates from attending our House proceedings.”

“Ministers from these fledgling democracies like Afghanistan and from Africa would come to the Lok Sabha. They would be seated in the special enclosures and introduced to the House by the Speaker. Then fights would break out and the session would be adjourned in minutes. The delegates would then ask us: Is this how a Parliamentary proceeding goes?”

Following the novel usage of pepper spray and even reports of a knife and inflammable liquid having been smuggled in, the demand for frisking of MPs has also resurfaced. Former Delhi Police Commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma informs Metrolife, “The idea was actively considered after the 2001 terror attack on Parliament, but later dismissed. However, following this episode, maybe the Speaker can rethink it. The decision belongs to her. The Delhi Police will put up the necessary infrastructure whenever ordered.”

Jawaharlal Nehru University professor of International Studies Kamal Mitra Chenoy is worried that if this is how MPs behave in the Parliament, how would they conduct themselves outside it, “God forbid, these people would run riot in the streets of Andhra. These are signs of not-so-good times to come. Does more shame await us now outside of the Parliament?”

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