Leave aside the politics of it. The Bhagwant Mann controversy makes one ask why MPs shouldn’t volunteer to forego the privilege of being spared security checks at Parliament House – the way they submitted over a decade ago to the law against smoking in public places.
It was an initiative of MPs that led to Parliament’s Central Hall and lobbies turning into smoke-free zones in 2004. The lead was taken by a clutch of members.
Their plea: law makers couldn’t be on the wrong side of their own legislation that restricted advertisement and consumption of tobacco products. An admirable instance it was of MPs setting an example by personal conduct.
Mann’s indiscretion in streaming live his arrival in Parliament House through security barriers brings out equally tangibly the virtue of self-discipline. For the MP from Punjab isn’t the first legislator to have compromised or breached security in the complex that came under terrorist attack in December 2001.
In recent years, a member was caught using a fake car sticker. He was let off with a warning by the Ethics Committee. Another MP blew pepper spray from a can he smuggled into the House in protest against the legislation that bifurcated Telangana from Andhra Pradesh. He resigned later amid all round condemnation, insisting that his purpose was to keep the Telugu people united.
But how on earth could he carry the pepper-spray inside? The answer’s simple: MPs aren’t frisked. Nor are they asked to have their briefcases scanned.
“What he did was a serious breach of security, an abuse of his privilege of unhindered access to the House,” said an official of parliament’s watch and ward staff. The ruckus the Andhra MP caused saw some of his fellow members hospitalised. Security was heightened for leaders with SPG cover: then PM Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The peppery Telangana face-off happened at the fag-end of the UPA’s second spell in power. In the twilight of the coalition’s first term, bundles of currency notes adding up to one crore were carried undetected inside the Lok Sabha and unloaded on the secretary general’s table. In what’s known as the ‘cash- for-vote’ scam, the money, claimed the BJP, was paid to help defeat the no-trust motion the Manmohan Singh regime faced after Left parties withdrew support from it over the Indo-US nuclear deal.
“In our internal meetings, the issue came up as an instance of security breach. For some reasons, a proposal to install high-tech, unobtrusive scans for MPs wasn’t taken forward,” recalled an official of the Lok Sabha secretariat. He emphasised nevertheless the need for a regimen that’ll ensure security without treating members as suspects!
The Mann episode, argued the watch and ward official, could be turned into an opportunity: “Members should volunteer to pass through checks. Things won’t change unless voices come from within…”
If security personnel had their way, they’d make MPs use parliament’s ferry service to enter the premises rather than driving in their cars. “We let their vehicles in without knowing whether they were securely parked before being driven to Parliament. In-house ferrying will be abundant precaution against tech savvy, in-transit subversion of private vehicles,” remarked an official.
He wasn’t sanguine, however, whether the proposal will ever be mooted, leave alone it finding easy acceptance.