The media anguish over the ruckus last week in the Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh assemblies is curious. How have the MLAs of UP and Andhra behaved any worse than they had done several times in the past, or even than their counterparts in other assemblies? Heckling the governor or rushing into the well has been a standard practice for decades now. Throwing paper balls, as the UP MLAs did, is hardly an outrage — these wouldn’t have hurt anyone, unlike the microphones and chairs thrown in the same premises on one memorable occasion 12 years ago.
Before lamenting the fact that UP governor T.V. Rameshwar could not complete his opening address last Tuesday, it is worth finding out how many times in the past four-and-half years since he became governor, he has been able to. Only once. All other times, he has read out the opening and closing paragraphs of his speech and, his voice drowned out by the din and departed. Since mid-2007, with Mayawati in power, it were the Samajwadi Party MLAs who heckled the governor each time he tried to read out his prepared speech lauding the BSP government. Earlier, when Mulayam Singh Yadav was chief minister, it was the BSP MLAs who heckled him as he tried to extol the virtues of the then SP government.
Almost exactly a year before Tuesday’s incident, on February 8, 2008, as the Governor began speaking, opposition MLAs began bursting helium-filled black balloons. Did that not amount to disrespect of the House or the office of the Governor? But there was no similar media hand-wringing then. In fact, as MLAs themselves admit in private, misbehaving in the assembly is one of the few avenues open to newcomers and backbenchers to make an impression. (All such disruption is carried out with the consent of party leaders.) Newcomers, unless exceptionally articulate, are rarely given a chance to submit or ask questions.
With some Assemblies allowing live tv coverage of their proceedings, shenanigans in the assembly even give MLAs a chance to score with their voters back in their constituencies. Being featured on TV establishes beyond doubt that they aren’t just having a good time in the state capital – as many voters suspect them of doing – they are making their presence felt.