Behave, please: how lawless MPs, MLAs hurt democracy
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Behave, please: how lawless MPs, MLAs hurt democracy

Our MPs and MLAs should tell people they are sorry for abusing the trust reposed in them, writes Hindustan Times' editor-in-chief Sanjoy Narayan. Poll: Should lawmakers who disrupt Parliament/legislatures be sacked?

columns Updated: Feb 24, 2014 13:25 IST
Sanjoy Narayan
Sanjoy Narayan
Hindustan Times
pepper spray,marshal slapped,shirtless MLA

Those of us who were unfortunate enough to be visually assaulted by the video footage of two shirtless protesting MLAs of the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly last Wednesday may have noticed something else too: the mirth with which their antics were greeted by their colleagues in the assembly.

There were wide grins all-round, including on the face of the state's young chief minister, and one MLA even got up to try and pull down the rest of the clothing on one of the protestors (fortuitously for us, he didn't succeed).

There were little signs of outrage both, when the incident happened and in its aftermath. It's been barely four days since then and it is already forgotten.

Ten days ago, an irate MP from Andhra Pradesh decided to use pepper spray, a potentially dangerous weapon, to protest in the Lok Sabha against the Telangana Bill.

Read:Lagadapati Rajagopal basks in glory in Seemandhra for pepper spray act

It created a ripple and mild outrage but was largely forgotten. Neither he, his other colleagues who equally violently disrupted the proceedings that day, nor the two men in UP who showed us parts of their bodiesthat we should have remained unaware of, have apologised to us, the people who chose them as their representatives.

On the day those two strippers performed in Lucknow, an MLA in the Jammu & Kashmir assembly slapped a marshal in the House, and, in the Rajya Sabha in Delhi, another anti-Telangana protestor MP snatched papers from a senior House official.

Read:How MPs hit the very bottom of the barrel during Telangana debate

To the best of my knowledge none of them has apologised for their behavior nor have they been censured beyond perhaps some mild rebuke.

Such behaviour in Parliament or assemblies is not new. For years, legislators have hurled shoes as a form of protest; vandalised microphones and furniture; and behaved indecently (in 1989, the current chief minister of Tamil Nadu, then in the opposition, had her sari pulled at by ruling party MLAs, including a minister).

It's only that such behaviour is now out in the open and, since live telecast of Parliament and some of the assemblies began, people are able to see how their representatives conduct themselves at work.

Or, rather, they can when they are able to. Last Tuesday, we hit yet another nadir when the Lok Sabha TV channel blacked out the telecast of proceedings during the passage of the Telangana Bill.

Read:After storm, harmony and a little work on last day of 15th Lok Sabha

Officials cited technical reasons for the rather coincidental blackout but only the very gullible will buy that. Since 2006, proceedings in Parliament have been telecast live and this is possibly the first time it has been censored.

The point is not about dissent and protest both of which are valid and necessary for a democracy to function effectively. Filibustering or 'talking out' a Bill is common practice in parliamentary democracy and debates and discussion are its lifeblood.

People elect MPs and MLAs reposing trust and faith in them to protect their interests and build and influence policies that will make for good governance.

If such representatives behave in the manner that was demonstrated last week - by the pepper sprayer in Delhi, the disrobers in Lucknow and the slapper in J&K - should they not be taken to task more seriously?

Read:Disturbing: 15th Lok Sabha most disrupted House ever

RLD legislators go shirtless in UP assembly, protesting delay of payments to cane farmers. (ANI Photo)

Read:Parliament attacked, but this time by MPs over Telangana

Should they not tell the people who elected them that they are ashamed and sorry for how they abused the trust reposed in them? Or have we become so cynical that it doesn't matter?

In the mid-1980s, I was a rookie reporter in Calcutta (as it was known then) assigned to cover the budget speech by an economist-finance minister who was also highly respected as an academician.

The man had just finished reading his speech when a leader from the opposition benches stormed into the well of the House and ran up to face the minister in the treasury benches. He then pulled up his dhoti and said something that, without being indecorous, I cannot repeat.

In 30 years since then, I have had to meet many legislators, from assemblies as well as Parliament and have often been impressed by their calibre and conduct. But, unfortunately, that first impression of a lawmaker gathered in my rookie days has remained indelible.

Video: Protesting MLAs should have also taken off their pants, says Azam Khan

Video: Jammu and Kashmir assembly marshal slapped

Video: Paper-snatcher on the prowl in Parliament

HT Survey on lawmakers' behaviour in Assemblies/Parliament:

First Published: Feb 23, 2014 00:48 IST