The Bold Voice of J&K

Wayward MPs bring infamy to Parliment

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A Surya Prakash
The rowdy behaviour of Ravindra Gaikwad, Member of the Lok Sabha, with a senior official of Air India and his shameful boast before TV cameras that he beat the official 25 times with his slippers, has shocked the conscience of the nation. But, what is even more worrying is the deafening silence of most parliamentarians and their unwillingness to speak up for the people and against such blatant hooliganism by a colleague who has sullied the image of India’s apex legislature.
This shocking incident also brings us back to the core issue – the reluctance of Parliament to enforce a code of conduct and to discipline unruly MPs. Members of a committee that probed the Mudgal Affair in the provisional Parliament in 1951 drew up a code of conduct for MPs. A fresh attempt was made by Speaker Shivraj Patil in 1993, leading to the establishment of the ethics committee in both Houses, but precious little has been done to regulate the conduct of MPs. While our MPs are extremely conscious of their privileges, Parliament has failed to enforce ethics and punish gross misbehaviour.
The Gaikwad incident would never have taken place, if past incidents of gross misbehaviour had been punished. Our MPs are entitled to travel free in air conditioned first class coaches on Indian Railways. They also get 32 air tickets to travel within the country, apart from air tickets from their constituency to attend sessions of Parliament. Yet, there have been cases of MPs’ families traveling ticket less on trains. There have also been instances of MPs and their companions threatening and assaulting genuine passengers who object to these ticket less VIPs usurping their seats. Such instances are not uncommon. But, we never hear of Parliament punishing MPs who misuse their privileges in this manner.
The Gaikwad case is just the latest in a series of such instances concerning unruly MPs. Here is an example from the past, which tells us a lot about how MPs behave and how our Parliament responds to complaints regarding their misconduct. An IAS officer was traveling with his family in the first class compartment of the New Delhi-Calcutta Rajdhani Express on October 28, 1992. Two MPs from Bihar boarded the train at Gomoh and Dhanbad stations. The first MP walked into the compartment at Gomoh with three men, two of whom were his bodyguards, and the other a security personnel in uniform. The MP asked the bonafide passenger to vacate his reserved seat. When the passenger refused, the MP’s bodyguards beat him up, brandished their revolvers and threatened to shoot him. This passenger and his family were traumatised a second time when the second MP entered the compartment at Dhanbad. It was now the turn of the second MP and his 10 armed supporters to thrash the passenger. They even tried to throw him out onto the station platform. This incident was widely reported in the media but Parliament did nothing to punish the rowdy MPs. There are many more such cases both on the railways and airlines since then, but such MPs have never been punished.
The list of complaints against our representatives is only growing by the day. One of the reasons for such misbehaviour is the prevailing misunderstanding about their “privileges” and the false sense of importance that our representatives carry on their shoulders as a result. The presiding officers of the two Houses of Parliament and the Legislatures in the States should educate members about the meaning of parliamentary privilege and the reason why some special privileges are bestowed on MPs and MLAs.
MN Kaul and SL Shakdher, the authors of the basic text on parliamentary procedure and rules have explained these issues most succinctly. They point out that the object of privilege is to safeguard freedom, authority and dignity of Parliament and that “privilege” means the rights and immunities enjoyed by each House of Parliament, its committees and its members. Privileges are granted to MPs and MLAs so that they may perform their duties in Parliament and the State Assemblies without let or hindrance. However, it is not a licence for criminal misconduct or for them to ride rough shod over bonafide passengers.
Parliament has been extremely lenient towards such MPs in the past, leading to the present situation. For example, an MP – Jaswant Singh Bishnoi – was downgraded from first class AC to second AC – to accommodate a High Court judge (who was above him in order of precedence) on a Delhi-Jodhpur train in August, 2000. The MP raised such a shindy that the Committee of Privileges of the Lok Sabha hauled up the entire railway board and submitted a 75-page report in defence of the MP’s conduct.
In December, 2011, 18 MPs from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar complained to the Railway Minister about ill-treatment at the hands of the railways because they were downgraded from first class to second class AC on the Patna-Delhi Rajdhani Express.
MPs just board trains at will and expect bonafide passengers to be dislodged. The railway officials said out of 22 first class berths, only six were vacant and were given to MPs. The rest were accommodated in second class AC coaches, but this was infra dig for our MPs. The hapless Minister apologised to these MPs in Parliament and transferred out a senior railway official.
The obnoxious behaviour of the MPs on the Rajdhani Express in 1992 prompted a media veteran – Nikhil Chakravarthy – to ask in his column in The Pioneer:  “One would be enlightened as to what measures of discipline are enforced upon people’s representatives by the leaders of their party, and also by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, who has been informed of their misdemeanor – amounting to a Member of Parliament terrorising citizens of the country – which should invite disqualification from the membership of the august House. Unless appropriate punishment is meted out, infamy will infest the institution itself – and thereby it will lose its very occupation”.
Twenty five years after this incident, Nikhil Chakravarthy’s words sound prophetic when we see and hear an MP publicly boast that he landed 25 blows on an Air India official with his slippers. If Parliament had a quarter century ago put the right of the people, who elect MPs, above that the “privilege” of MPs to indulge in such gross misdemeanor, we would never have the Gaikwad incident now. The Bihar MPs lowered the dignity of Parliament. Gaikwad has done it now. How long will Parliament prefer infamy to enforcing discipline among its members?

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