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Humour on the House

‘Somnath Chatterjee has lived up to his designation and name — he has been ‘speaker’ and ‘chatter’jee,’ says a member of the 14th Lok Sabha about its irrepressible Speaker. But there were at least two occasions when Chatterjee was speechless.

india Updated: Mar 01, 2009 02:07 IST
Varghese K. George

‘Somnath Chatterjee has lived up to his designation and name — he has been ‘speaker’ and ‘chatter’jee,’ says a member of the 14th Lok Sabha about its irrepressible Speaker. But there were at least two occasions when Chatterjee was speechless.

One was a about dressing down Chatterjee gave to Ramdas Athawale of the Republican Party, who rarely lost an opportunity to shout. Athawale replied innocently, “But sir, you used to tell me to shout louder in the previous Lok Sabha.” Chatterjee, who was leader of the CPI(M) in the 13th Lok Sabha, choked before replying, “That doesn’t mean the wrong should continue.”
The other was when Varkala Radhakrishnan, the 82-year-old CPI(M) MP and a stickler for rules, questioned the chair quoting the rulebook. He cornered the Speaker for allowing the government to introduce a Bill without circulating copies in advance, forcing him to admit, “I stand admonished.” Radhakrishnan is not easily impressed with explanations, as his ageing ears don’t catch most of it — colleagues joke that he has no ‘incoming facility’.

Chatterjee had his revenge on Athawale soon enough, when his mobile phone rang inside the chamber. It was seized immediately, and returned only after the House rose. “I was never angry whenever the Speaker scolded me because he taught me many things about the parliamentary procedure,” says Athawale.

There are mobile phone jammers in the chamber but they malfunction occasionally; and by the last session of the Lok Sabha, they were technologically challenged. They cannot stop the newly introduced 3G mobile signals.

Athawale, who champions Dalit causes, had the entire House in splits with a question on whether the government had any remedy for stray dogs who bite people and for ‘casteist dogs’ whose bites were spreading a dangerous poison in the society.

In his answer, the health minister said remedy was available only for stray dogs’ bites and the House was in splits again.

In the early days of the 14th Lok Sabha, the NDA declared a boycott. Their charge was that the government’s ‘attitude’ to the Opposition was hostile. Manmohan Singh had apparently thrown away a petition the NDA had submitted. The Congress flatly refused that any such thing had taken place. The truth was somewhere in between. The PM took the papers in his hand and shoved it on his table. BJP leader Anant Kumar told the Speaker in a closed-door meeting: “Our real problem is that nobody believes Manmohan Singh could get angry. If we had said this about Pranab Mukherjee, everyone would have believed us.”

Members of the 14th Lok Sabha innovated on how they made a point. CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta wanted to bring into the House bloodstained shirts of the Honda workers who were lathi-charged in Gurgaon in July 2005. Speaker Chatterjee refused permission. In his speech, Dasgupta repeatedly referred to the Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Hooda as Mr Honda.

Once, the BJP members entered the House wearing shirts with slogans against the UPA government emblazoned. The Speaker reprimanded them.

On another occasion, BSP member Akbar ‘Dumpy’ Ahmed entered wearing a kafiya, a scarf worn by Muslims, to protest against the police producing the accused in the Delhi serial blasts with their faces covered in such scarves. It was only after repeated requests that he removed the scarf.

Apparently, catcalls are a new introduction in the 14th Lok Sabha as a way of disrupting proceedings. A woman BJP MP from
Rajasthan started this and the trend had caught up by the end.

Everyone has suggestions on disciplining such unruly MPs. Former parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi once took journalists for a ride. He told them that a new technology was being introduced to contain the ruckus: a high-tech public address system that would filter all noises and transmit only the speeches allowed by the chair. Those who looked for a confirmation to the story didn’t get any, while some others went to town about the ‘unique technology’.

On another occasion, the joke was on Dasmunsi. He wrongly briefed reporters that the Sachar panel report was tabled in the Lok Sabha — a day before it actually was. The news was carried by some.

The 14th Lok Sabha also witnessed some deeply emotional moments. From the backbenches, Rahul Gandhi once sent a note to mother Sonia on the front row. It said, ‘Mom, I love you.’ Sonia walked to Rahul’s seat and sat with him for a while.

The Lok Sabha will be back soon with all its colour and noise. But before that, it’ll be the colour and noise of the 15th general elections.

(Inputs by Chetan Chauhan and Nagendar Sharma)