By Liz Mathew, New Delhi, Aug 27 : I was prepared for another day of routine business in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. But when Prabhunath Singh got up to speak, the scribes sitting at the press gallery knew that we would get to hear some provocative remarks by the Janata Dal-United MP that would set the sparks flying, and he, as usual, would sit back and enjoy.
However, what transpired after his speech did not just set off the sparks but led to a blaze that singed the dignity of India's parliament.
Singh's uncharitable remarks on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi have many a time in the past incensed her party MPs. "Dekho, yeh abhi bolenge Sonia Gandhi ke khilaf (Now just see, he will make some anti-Sonia remarks)," said a journalist sitting behind me when he saw Singh rising to speak.
The JD-U MP started off by making a statement on the state of affairs in Bihar, blaming the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for the prevailing lawlessness and thus annoyed his rival MPs. The RJP members immediately stood up and started shouting at him. This was nothing unusual as all parties adopt the tactic to out-shout any rival members whenever anything unpleasant is said.
Then Ram Kripal Yadav, the leader of the RJD's shouting brigade, upon getting a small gesture from his leader Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, started off. He did not hesitate in using all the possible expressions in Hindi to deride the JD-U-led Bihar government.
Prabhunath Singh, after a few such exchanges, then referred to a rape of a Dalit woman in Bihar and a report mentioning the suspected involvement of Lalu Prasad's relative.
All hell broke out in the house after that.
What we witnessed afterwards would put even a fish market to shame. There were exchanges of the choicest of Hindi abuses - most of them that people like me, not very well-versed with Hindi, have not even heard before.
It was Prabhunath Singh and Lalu Prasad - two senior party leaders - who were in the forefront in the hurl of abuses.
As the reporters watched with shock and disbelief, Lalu Prasad's furious brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav - against whom a Bihar court has a issued non-bailable arrest warrant for alleged misuse of flood relief funds - menacingly advanced towards Prabhunath Singh, knocking down the other MPs in his way, his fist raised.
His fist would have made contact with Singh's jaw had it not been for an alert Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, BJP MP, who jumped in between like a superhero. What followed then was a flood of abuses, pushing and pulling violently at each other, sarcastic comments - one of which even provoked another RJD MP R.K. Rana to lift a mike from the reporters' table and throw it at the BJP MPs.
With a heavy heart we watched the MPs, whom we have elected and sent to speak on our behalf, in the highest constitutional forum, behaving in the manner of street rowdies.
As students we had read a lot about the troubles and pains our freedom fighters took to liberate our country from colonial rule.
As a journalist, covering parliament for the last 10 years, I have heard many stories from senior scribes about how our great leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and S. Radhakrishan used to behave in parliament and how dignified the atmosphere used to be. So, these unpleasant scenes pained me greatly as well as my other media colleagues.
It hurts to realise how easily some MPs - out of the 545 in the Lok Sabha and less than 250 in the Rajya Sabha - take all of us, the voters, for granted. Many of them do not do their required homework for parliamentary duties. They come and sign the attendance record that ensures payment of their daily allowances. They write on slips of paper that often passes for a memorandum handed to ministers, highlighting grievances or demands, and then would like the media to report about it. .
There are however exceptions and, although there are bad apples that bring the whole parliamentary system to disrepute, there are also many MPs who stand out for their etiquette, diligence, sense of responsibility and maintenance of parliamentary decorum.
(Liz Mathew is a senior political and parliamentary correspondent of IANS. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
What's the difference between people who pray in church and those who pray in casinos?
The ones in the casinos are serious.
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