New low as MP whips out pepper spray, leaves parliament weeping
13 February 2014
Indians are accustomed to seeing their elected representatives behaving like Kipling's unruly and disruptive 'bandar lok' (monkey tribes), but a new low was reached today when an MP of the ruling Congress party from Andhra Pradesh whipped out a can of pepper spray from his pocket and began spraying it indiscriminately at his parliamentary colleagues.
The culprit, L Rajagopal, is an industrialist who is opposed to the division of Andhra Pradesh into a separate Telangana state, the bill for which was before the Lok Sabha when the incident occurred amid unruly scenes, with MPs storming the well of the house, uprooting microphones, and indulging in other monkey-like behaviour that the country is used to. But the use of pepper spray in the hallowed premises was unprecedented.
Reports say that another MP even pulled out a knife from his pocket, but replaced it quickly and later denied doing any such thing although he was captured by TV cameras.
Media persons and other visitors face strict security checks before they can enter the parliament building in south Delhi, but there are no such checks for MPs – a great many of whom have criminal antecedents.
Three MPs -Vinay Kumar Pande, Ponnam Prabhakar and Balram Nai - suffered from suffocation, irritation in their eyes and heavy coughing, following which they were taken to the nearby Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital for brief treatment.
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar herself was seen coughing under the attack. Suspending 16 MPs from the house, Meira Kumar called the incident a ''blot'' on Indian democracy and said it has ''shamed the country and parliament''
Ironically, Congress MP Rajagopal, who carried pepper spray if not a knife into parliament, had sought steps to curb unruly behaviour in Parliament. He had introduced a private member's bill in the Lok Sabha in 2009 to deal with disruptions by MPs and even suggested a mechanism to penalise them.
Apart from those hospitalised, many other MPs were seen coming out of the house with watery eyes, and were feeling suffocated. Ambulances were pressed into service.
Another anti-Telangana member, Venugopal Reddy (TDP) broke the mike of the house secretary-general, and a computer screen was broken in the well as members from either side of the divide came to blows when home minister Sushilkumar Shinde rose to introduce the bill for reorganising Andhra Pradesh.
During the proceedings, a TDP member K Narayan Rao with heart condition collapsed in the House and was rushed to RML hospital.
Journalists in the media gallery, directly above the speaker's podium, were hit as well as the MPs storming the well in violent protest. Suddenly Telugu Desam Party (TDP) member M. Venugopala uprooted a microphone and broke the glass on the secretary general's table.
Fisticuffs actually broke out between MPs for and against the creation of Telangana, and before anybody could gather their wits, Rajagopal, who was also standing near the speaker's podium, started spraying pepper all over the place.
It was several minutes before the reporters realised what was happening and started running towards the exit. However, this was blocked by the large number of mediapersons who had come to cover the tabling of the much awaited Telangana bill.
Journalists scampered outside and started calling up their offices to dictate their reports on the unprecedented incident, while some were seen rushing to the washrooms to wash their stinging eyes.
Some reporters complained of nausea. Others said they felt choked and were seen constantly coughing.
Although no pepper spray or knife attacks were seen in the Rajya Sabha, similar protests for and against the Telangana Bill in the upper house, with MPs storming the well and seeking to uproot microphones. Needless to say, both houses were quickly adjourned for the day, as our representatives gave themselves yet another paid holiday.
The union government's controversial move to carve out a separate Telangana state from Andhra Pradesh, considered ham-handed by most neutral observers, has created divides across political lines.
Today despite the disruption, the government insisted that the bill had been officially introduced, but the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and six other parties disputed this claim.
The Rajya Sabha also witnessed uproarious, scenes with members staging protests in the Well over Telangana statehood issue and a TDP member trying to snatch the mike of the chair. In the ruckus over the issue, TDP MP C M Ramesh tried to uproot the mike from the podium, the Chair adjourned the House till afternoon and finally for the day till Monday.
The Seemandhra MPs, protesting against creation of Telangana, sought to stall introduction of the bill which home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde later claimed has been tabled but was disputed by BJP and other opposition parties.
Senior BJP leader L K Advani, who is also chairman of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance coalition, said what happened in the house was disgraceful not only for the government but for parliament as a whole. He of course blamed the ruling UPA coalition for this.
Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath condemned the behaviour of the MPs and said the Speaker would take action.
The well of the Lok Sabha turned into a battle ground as fisticuffs broke out between members from Seemandhra and others, including former Bollywood star Raj Babbar, disgraced cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin, Lal Singh (all Congress) and Saugata Roy (Trinamool Congress), who wanted to prevent disruptions in the House.
After damaging the mike, Reddy (TDP) snatched papers from the Speaker's podium, while Rajagopal broke the glass on the table and used the pepper spray.
In the afternoon, Meira Kumar cracked the whip and suspended 16 MPs, who are against division of Andhra Pradesh, for rest of the session.
Meira. Kumar named 18 members who were asked to withdraw from the House. Later, the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a circular in which the names of Suresh Kumar Shetkar (pro-Telangana) and K Bappi Raju (Seemandhra) were deleted.
The suspended members cannot enter the House, inner lobby and galleries. They cannot participate in the meetings of Parliamentary Committees and cannot vote in committees during the suspension till February 20, the penultimate day of the 15h Lok Sabha.