NEW DELHI: After pepper spray, scuffles and table smashing, India’s often dysfunctional parliament has ended its final session before general elections in acrimony, setting the stage for a bitter poll campaign.
The Lok Sabha did at least manage to pass some legislation in its final weeks, but its most notable achievement took place out of the public eye after the live television feed was cut as tempers erupted on the floor of the house.
While Speaker Meira Kumar blamed a technical glitch, commentators said she was trying to spare parliament more embarrassment only days after an MP opposed to Telangana’s creation sprayed capsicum at colleagues.
As the Lok Sabha convened at the beginning of the month after its winter recess, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath made a plea to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to cooperate so important bills on corruption and disabled rights could be passed.
In the end, they never made it onto the statute book, victims of what was the most unproductive parliament in India’s post-independence history.
In his last speech to parliament on Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested that perhaps something good could come of the rancour of the past weeks.
But a more brutal assessment came from his cabinet colleague Shashi Tharoor who said the behaviour of parliamentarians had plumbed to an all-time low. “The ‘temple of democracy,’ as Indians have long hailed their parliament, has been soiled by its own priests, and is now in desperate need of reform,” he wrote for the Project Syndicate website.
“These have been (the) worst five years of India’s parliamentary political history... If Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s first prime minister) had come back today, he’d have been shocked and saddened,” Hartosh Singh Bal, a veteran political commentator, told AFP. “Parliament has become a reflection of politics and it is also setting the stage for the election campaign which is obviously the most divisive political campaign in India’s history.”—AFP