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Dealing with new lows

Even for a country with a long and unedifying history of parliamentary pandemonium, nothing can be as shameful and disgraceful as the use of pepper spray by a member on his peers to disrupt proceedings. Vijayawada MP Lagadapati Rajagopal, one of six Congress lawmakers expelled for disorderly behaviour earlier, wielded this weapon in the Lok Sabha in a desperate bid to stall the introduction of the Telangana Bill. The Speaker herself was affected by the lachrymatory substance, and quite a few members required medical attention. Mr. Rajagopal’s claim that he used pepper spray in self-defence is absurd. Another member has been accused of brandishing a knife, but he has denied it, claiming what he was holding was a microphone, probably one wrenched from its fixture. Parliamentary security was perhaps prepared for what many saw as the final battle for Telangana as the time came to introduce the contentious Bill that will pave the way for the reorganisation of Andhra Pradesh. One MP had threatened to set himself on fire if the Bill was introduced, but no one could have expected that assorted weaponry would find its way inside for actual use. Many a distressed observer of bedlam in the House had been dreading such an incident, and it was only a matter of time before a desperate member went beyond routine ruckus. Speaker Meira Kumar should no more restrict herself to feeble entreaties to maintain decorum but adopt sterner measures, ranging from ordering eviction to allowing criminal prosecution in select instances.

Legislative business is often the casualty of unseemly behaviour and even though Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde managed to introduce the Telangana Bill, the principal opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, doubts whether it had been introduced at all. The incident raises the question whether Parliament should go the way of State legislatures and resort to eviction of unruly members to ensure the smooth functioning of the House. En masse eviction of whole groups of legislators is quite common in State Assemblies. Parliament has been more democratic and tolerant but this restraint has often led to a small group of obstreperous members blocking key legislation, such as the women’s reservation bill. The Congress must bear responsibility for the present logjam, as it has been unable to build enough support through discussions. The BJP’s stand has been ambiguous: it supports the formation of Telangana in principle, wants the concerns of Seemandhra to be addressed, blames the UPA for the mess in Parliament and has demanded that there should first be order in the House. Political consensus may be the ideal way, but legislative activity cannot forever be hostage to deliberate disorder.

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