Vandalism in Tamil Nadu Assembly: Why this comes as no surprise

MK Stalin after ruckus in Tamil Nadu Assembly on February 18, 2017
Tamil Nadu Assembly on Saturday became witness to acts of violence and vandalism by elected representatives of the state’s people. And, worse, this was not the first time that the members of the state’s legislative Assembly resorted to actions beneath their office.

When a special session of the Assembly was convened on Saturday for the new chief minister, Edipaddi Palaniswami, to go through a floor test to prove his majority in the House, many expected an end to the political uncertainty in the state since the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa. However, what ensued were repeated instances of din as the two factions of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), as well as members of the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), clashed.

Even as Palaniswami won the trust vote in the end, securing 122 votes against the required 116, this became possible only after the DMK lawmakers were evicted from the House.

Earlier in the day, the Assembly had to be adjourned twice, as MLAs created ruckus over the demand from the Congress, DMK and the O Panneerselvam-led AIADMK faction that a secret ballot be conducted. But Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal’s decision of not allowing this led to verbal and physical spats. The Speaker's table, as well as other furniture and microphones in the House, were damaged. Some reports also suggested that DMK MLAs heckled the Speaker and tore his shirt.

The Tamil Nadu Assembly is no stranger to such instances of violence and vandalism by lawmakers. When Dhanapal on Saturday ordered the marshals to escort the DMK MLAs out of the hall, many were reminded of a similar scene from the 1989 Budget session of the Tamil Nadu Assembly when Jayalalithaa had been heckled and pulled by her hair after an ugly fight.

Coming back to the present, Saturday’s floor test had come after a period of the intense political slugfest. Earlier, while CM O Panneerselvam, who was seen as a proxy to Jayalalithaa, demitted office, apparently to make way for her former confidante V K Sasikala, he returned a few days later to claim he had been pressured by Sasikala and a few party members to quit – against the last wishes of ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa. Panneerselvam was then seen by many in the party as a rebel, even as he claimed that he and a handful of his supporters were trying to protect AIADMK from a “scheming” Sasikala.

The party soon seemed split in two factions – one each led by Sasikala and Panneerselvam – and posturing by the two to wrest control of the party and state went on in full steam until the Supreme Court threw Sasikala out of contention by convicting her in a 20-year-old disproportionate asset case.

Now, with Sasikala back in jail and barred from contesting for any public office for 10 years, she did what she was expected by most to do – she installed her own proxy in Palaniswami, who would stake his claim to the chief minister’s chair.

On Thursday, Governor Vidyasagar Rao invited Palaniswami to take oath as the chief minister and gave him 15 days to prove his majority through a floor test. But, surprisingly, Palaniswami sought a special session of the Assembly within just two days. But as soon as the Assembly convened at 11 am, it became a stage for one of the most shameful acts for any democracy like India.

Embarrassing precedents

Saturday’s shocking scenes from the Tamil Nadu Assembly were not new – neither for the state nor for the country. There have been many such incidents in various Assemblies, as well as Parliament, considered sanctimonious temples of democracy.

Here is a quick look at some of the most infamous ruckuses from the past:

January 1988, Tamil Nadu Assembly:

As then AIADMK government in the state sought to prove its majority, with wife Janaki Ramachandran claiming the leadership of the party after MGR’s death, there was a riot in the Assembly. Though the government survived the vote, with some Congress MLAs resigning instead of voting against Ramachandran, the Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre dismissed the state government labelling it unconstitutional, and imposed the President’s rule.

March 1989, Tamil Nadu Assembly:

A small verbal duel between MLAs of the AIADMK and the ruling DMK during the state’s Budget session turned into an ugly confrontation. The then AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa’s saree was pulled and torn. After this incident, Jayalalithaa is believed to have sworn never to return to the Assembly, unless as the chief minister of the state. And, she did return in 1991 – as the CM.

October 1997, Uttar Pradesh Assembly:

As soon as the state Assembly met for a confidence vote for the then Kalyan Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, a ruckus took over the hall. Months of bitter disputes and differences between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and BJP – they had jointly formed the government in 1996 – took an ugly turn in the Assembly. Many pieces of furniture were damaged and MLAs threw microphones at one another; everything in the Assembly hall was left in shambles.

November 2009, Maharashtra Assembly:

When the Assembly convened after state elections, an MLA decided to take his oath of office in Hindi. The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navanirmana Samithi (MNS) objected to this and assaulted him. Four MNS MLAs were immediately suspended for 4 years.

February 2014, Parliament of India:

During the passage of the Telangana formation Bill in Parliament, the Congress MP from Vijayawada, Lagadapati Rajagopal — who was against division of Andhra Pradesh — fired pepper spray on his colleagues, with an intent to disrupt Parliament at any cost. The broadcast of Parliamentary proceeding was also blacked out. That day is considered one of the ugliest in the history of democratic India.

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