Millennium Post

Chaos and unruly behaviour

The unseemly spectacle that played out in the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha during its truncated monsoon session [16-27 July 2012] has brought credit neither to the opposition and nor the treasury benches. The opposition’s unruly, wild and rowdy behaviour was not justifiable on any grounds. And neither was the government’s decision to summarily terminate the membership of two senior Congress MLAs without giving them an opportunity to be heard.

The real business of the legislature i.e. to debate and discuss the issues touching the life of the common man, became the casualty of the mayhem. Five bills and the supplementary budget were passed without anyone being the wiser as to the provisions thereof.

It all began with a number of opposition members moving adjournment motions seeking a debate on the sensational IT raids on two businessmen, whose assets had multiplied with astonishing rapidity during the eight-year-long Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule and on corruption in the government. The BJP was not in a position to deny its links with the two businessmen. One was an office-bearer in the party and the other was a known wheeler-dealer.

The government, sensing that the debate may paint it into a corner, was unwilling to allow it. The excuse was a purely technical one – it was cited that the House cannot discuss the action taken by a Central government department.

The main opposition, the Congress, which was in the dumps following a string of defeats in the electoral arena, saw in the IT raids a convenient handle to beat the government with. When this handle was denied to it, its members virtually lost their head. The speaker was held hostage, the members crowded into the Well of the House and a lady Congress member sat on the lap of the MLA presiding over the House. Others climbed atop the Speaker’s chair. All sorts of invectives were exchanged.

The ruling party hit back by moving a resolution terminating the membership of Congress members Chaudhary Rakesh Singh and Kalpana Parulekar. Five bills, the supplementary budget, and a resolution condemning the Central government for hiking the prices of fertilisers, were tabled and passed amidst uproar and the House was adjourned sine die. The 12-day session culminated on the third day. Now, both the parties have resolved to take the battle to the streets.

This is not for the first time that the chair was insulted in the state Vidhan Sabha. In 1966, a senior Janasangh member, Pandharinath Kridutt, threw slippers at deputy speaker Narmada Prasad Shrivastawa, who was in the chair. The shameful incident followed a verbal duel between the two. Kridutt, who was elected from Dhamtari [now in Chhattisgarh], lost the membership of the House. He moved the high court but could not get any relief. Ultimately he took sanyas from politics.

And neither is the phenomenon limited to the MP Vidhan Sabha. The legislatures of all states – barring a few honourable exceptions – the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha – all witness uproarious scenes, unruly behaviour, guillotining of budgets, passage of bills sans any meaningful discussion, premature adjournments et al. Only a few weeks ago, papers were hurled at Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari, who is also the vice-president of the country.

If the legislatures are not functioning properly, if they are not doing what they are meant to do – the presiding officers will have to share a major blame for it. And the reason for the diminishing clout of the presiding officers is not far to seek. They are perceived to be – and in most cases are – partisan. They are seen as stooges of the ruling party.

The presiding officers of legislatures enjoy enormous powers. They are virtual dictators of the House. Their decisions are final and binding and cannot be challenged in any court of law. And that is precisely why they should not only be above party politics but also seem to be so.

What makes our presiding officers behave in a partisan manner is their continued association with their party even after they are elected speakers or chairmen. The next election is never far away and unless their party gives them ticket, their political career would reach a dead end. So, they are compelled to keep their party bosses in good humour and this, in turn, affects their objectivity.

India has adopted the Westminster model of governance. In the House of Commons, the speaker’s name is proposed and seconded by non-government members to underline his impartiality. Once a person is elected the speaker, he eschews active politics, resigns from his party and breaks all ties with it. This convention is known as ‘Once a speaker, always a speaker’. In the next election, no party, including the ruling one, fields candidates in the speaker’s constituency and he is elected unopposed.

He does not contest under any party’s banner and is entitled to describe himself in the ballot paper as ‘The Speaker seeking re-election’. Though he is the ‘speaker’ but he never delivers any speech in the House and neither does he vote [except to break a tie].

When we have imported the Westminster model of governance lock, stock and barrel, why have we made an exception for this time-tested tradition is anybody’s guess. It is nobody’s case that such a provision would, like a magic wand, free our legislatures from the ills of chaotic functioning and unruly behaviour but they would definitely contribute a lot in that direction.
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