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Filibustering: The fine art of delaying

Filibustering means employing obstructionist tactics, especially prolonged speeches, to delay legislative action such as passing of a bill. Jayanth Jacob reports. Stopping the clock

india Updated: Dec 31, 2011 01:18 IST
Jayanth Jacob

When minister of state for personnel, V Narayanasamy, stood up in Rajya Sabha at 11.07 am on Friday, he was to make a 30-minute speech to introduce the lokpal bill in the Rajya Sabha.


But when he rose again, past 11.15 pm to reply to an 11-hour discussion, Narayanasamy knew very well that there were some irreconcilable 187 amendments to the bill to deal with. Not that he could have cared less, his intention seemed filibuster for the next 45-minutes, till RS was adjourned at midnight.



Filibustering means employing obstructionist tactics, especially prolonged speeches, to delay legislative action such as passing of a bill. http://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTPopups/311211/31-12-pg8b.jpg

Compared to those who were tasked with filibustering down the ages, including those in the celebrated democracies in the US and UK, Narayanasamy had a simple task.

In one of the most fabled episode of filibustering, Democratic senator, Huey P Long of Louisiana gave a 15-hour speech on June 12, 1935 to stop a bill that could have given his political adversaries lucrative New Deal jobs. If Narayanasamy had read just clauses of the bill, Long read the constitution of Amercia, parts of Bible and the plays of Shakespeare, as well as the recipe to make fried oysters.

Forget Narayanasamy, even Long is no comparison before senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who blocked the 1957 civil rights bill with a 24 hours and 18 minutes speech. In the annals of Britain’s parliamentary history, filibustering has a more resonating impact.

So what about filibustering in Indian Parliament. “Filibustering in India is not the way it is understood in West”, says PDT Achary, the former secretary general of Lok Sabha. He argues that in India debates get longer because “members don’t stick to time, and the first speakers from the major parties take a lot of time.”

Though the check on filibustering — cloture, a parliamentary procedure by which debate is ended and an immediate vote is taken on the matter under discussion is often used in West, similar rules are not exercised in India.