Marshal law

The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 was passed with the support of the three largest groupings in Parliament: the ruling alliance, the opposition NDA, and the Left parties. That can hardly be called an anti-democratic development, an "autocratic move", or "tanashahi". But that's how those who object to the bill primarily Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party have responded to its passage. Apparently the suspension of seven of their Rajya Sabha members for snatching copies of the bill, breaking Chairman Hamid Ansari's microphone, and climbing on the table, was anti-democratic in a way that holding up Parliament by doing those things, and by hours

of slogan-shouting, was not. On Wednesday, they succeeded in ensuring that the Lok Sabha, too, got no work done.

The bankruptcy of these parties' politics revealed itself in their desperate attempts to hog the spotlight over the passage of this bill. But for too long have individuals felt that forcing an adjournment through disrupting the House is a legitimate legislative tactic. The speaker of the Lok Sabha and the chairman of the Rajya Sabha have traditionally ruled with a light touch, avoiding the use of suspensions, not calling in marshals. The reasons for that have been understandable: the theory that every parliamentarian should have her say, and that closing off "debate", even if that debate has descended to the farcical shouting of slogans, is a bad thing. But that can go entirely too far. Nobody likes to see marshals entering the house; but ensuring that physical intimidation of the chairman and of the business of the Rajya Sabha doesn't take the place of verbal discussion is precisely what they are supposed to be called in to do.

Hopefully, this response will mark a turning point in our Parliament's recent history. The willingness of both the political leadership and of the presiding officers of the Houses to crack down on particularly egregious misbehaviour should send a signal that constant adjournments are no longer considered welcome. Both MPs with something to say and the public at large have demonstrated, in this latest case, impatience with the tactic. A firm reminder of what parliamentary discipline entails was long overdue.

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