The grammar of anarchy

VASUNDHARA KAMATH S SOURAV MANDAL | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on August 07, 2015

Uncalled for Should the Speaker be given the power to suspend MPs?   -  PTI

The culture of civil disobedience should have its own limits; it can’t be let to undermine the ethos of democracy

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for the first time used her authority to suspend 25 Members of Parliament for five sittings. She invoked Rule 374A of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business which is an extraordinary power rarely exercised and unique to our parliamentary democracy.

Only after repeated warnings to these MPs, which stretched over several sittings, they continued to disrupt proceedings of the House that eventually led to their suspension. This episode brings into question the political wisdom of the existence of Rule 374A.

For the fourth time in the history of our parliamentary democracy the Speaker has suspended sitting MPs for over a single sitting. Earlier Speaker Meira Kumar scored a hat-trick when she suspended 12, 9 and 17 MPs on three different occasions between August 2013 and February 2014, over the Telangana issue.

The fact that Kumar suspended Congress MPs in February 2014 suggests the need for political neutrality as an inherent trait of this office. Therefore, allegations by the Opposition that the Mahajan’s move is akin to a prelude to impose an Emergency is off the mark.

A relic of the past

The foundation of our freedom struggle was built on civil disobedience — which meant disruption of order and promotion of chaos through defiance of rules and regulations, and our political leadership has inherited the political culture.

Accordingly, BR Ambedkar who was instrumental in framing the Constitution cautioned the Constituent Assembly in 1949 that the ‘Grammar of Anarchy’ would follow if the political class continued its culture of civil disobedience. Clearly, what was good for the country to gain independence proved to be detrimental thereafter.

Originally, the rules of conduct framed for MPs in 1952 did not have such extraordinary authority vested in the Lok Sabha Speaker. Even in the event that disruptive MPs were asked to withdraw from the proceedings, the same held valid for one sitting. If the MPs had to be suspended for a longer duration, it could only be done by a motion introduced in the House.

Till the 1980s, the Speaker managed an orderly House owing to political compulsions characterised by the predominance of the Congress rule when MPs respected the Chair. The 1990s witnessed the emergence of coalition rule and this was reflected in the parliamentary proceedings, making it increasingly disruptive.

It was the late Lok Sabha Speaker GMC Balayogi who proposed in November 2001 the inclusion of an extraordinary power enabling the Speaker to suspend members without a motion. The stated rationale was to ensure decorum of the House and prevent grave disorder.

Unlike the Rajya Sabha and State Assemblies, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha enjoys such unusual authority to automatically suspend members for five sittings or the remainder of the session by a singular action. However, Balayogi himself never once did use this provision during his speaker-ship.

The only measure to terminate the suspension of an MP in the manner that was recently done is for the House to pass a motion against the Speaker’s order under the proviso to Rule 374A. However, the prevalent political arithmetic of the Lok Sabha, loaded in favour of the ruling coalition, makes the Opposition members helpless to reverse the Speaker’s diktat.

Learn from the Brits

While India largely adopted the British Parliamentary system, our political class practices a different culture in the House. For instance, in Britain, the MPs generally protest while confined to their seats and do not invade the Well of the House. However, in India parliamentarians are known for their unruly behaviour. Since one minute of Parliamentary procedure drains the public exchequer by ₹2 lakh, frequent disruptions need to be curbed.

Lastly, the issue pertains to constitutional liberalism in the political system. Political analyst Fareed Zakaria notes a successful democracy is one which encompasses the ideals of democracy and constitutional liberalism. He further observed that while democracies are flourishing, constitutional liberalism which is synonymous with basic liberties of speech, expression and assembly suffer a poor record.

Sadly, the Indian political system has not upheld these principles. Therefore, the time is ripe for a public debate over Rule 374A and its connotations in the Indian political and legal sphere.

The writers are assistant professors at the School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru

Published on August 07, 2015
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