Intro: The gross misconduct of our elected representatives is a cause of great concern.
One does not know what happens to many elected representatives once they enter portals of the legislatures. Some strange transformation takes place and they start behaving in the most disgraceful manner. The most recent instance was when several members of the Kerala Legislative Assembly displayed their muscle power. They outdid each other in attacking their rivals. The electronic media gave a blow by broadcasting account of the proceedings. One of the MLAs was even shown lowering his shirt sleeve to reveal the injury inflicted by a woman legislator who sunk her teeth into his shoulder. The Kerala opposition's demand that finance minister KM Mani should not present the budget since there were serious charges of corruption pending against him was fully justified. Ideally, this gentleman ought to have been shown the nearest door by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy when serious allegations surfaced against him. Instead, Chandy and the ruling coalition decided to rally around Mani, who is a prominent Christian leader. Chandy insisted on Mani presenting the budget and this resulted in a bedlam. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) mounted a major protest outside the legislature, members belonging to the Communist Party of India [CPI(M)], Congress indulged in a free for all inside the house lowering the prestige of the House to the nadir.
Meanwhile, in the Rajya Sabha, senior Janta Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav disgraced himself by his totally despicable remarks and unseemly gestures about women from south India. He revealed not only his crass ignorance, but also displayed his male chauvinistic feudal mindset. Even when television anchors singed him with criticism, he refused to apologise. Incidentally, this controversial man was given the Best Parliamentarian Award not long ago (in 2012). It is true that most of the members of the Upper House did not protest when Yadav passed his shameful remarks. But, it must be said to the credit of the BJP's spokesperson, Dr Sambit Patra, who while taking part in a national television debate on Yadav, instantly recognised the gravity of the situation and called for soul-searching by all elected representatives. His mature response only brought out the crude conduct of Yadav in bold relief.
The tragedy is that many of our elected representatives behave as if the television and the social media have not been invented. They forget the fact that they are under constant watch by millions of people. The quality of legislative debates has been deteriorating over the years. But more than anything else, it is the brazen misbehaviour of elected representatives like the ones of Kerala which make average voters wonder if they are electing the right people to represent them. If legislative assemblies are to be used as wrestling akhadas then we might as well elect local pehelwans.
Over the years, several electoral reforms have been introduced, including the disclosure of assets and criminal records by candidates. The RTI law has also helped in certain respects.
But, ultimately legislators themselves should realise the deep wounds they are inflicting on Parliamentary democracy by behaving like gundas in the House. If issues are to be settled by the display of muscle and lung power then why do we have elections at all? Legislators are sadly mistaken if they think that their voters will cheer them if they indulged in violence. In fact, they are only alienating those who voted them to power. Since the conduct of legislators inside the legislatures and Parliament is beyond judicial scrutiny, it is for the leaders of political parties to respond to the crisis. Other parties could take a cue from the BJP and send its MPs and MLAs for training. In fact, all those aspiring for party tickets themselves should be trained to uphold the decorum of the House.
Indian democracy has shown remarkable maturity over the years. Our elections, which are supervised by an independent Election Commission, are free and fair. Even in a politically volatile state like Jammu & Kashmir where the assembly elections were held under heavy security no one complained about electoral malpractices. However, the gross misconduct of many of our elected representatives is a major cause for concern. It is indeed time for introspection on the part of all stakeholders in Indian democracy.
S Balakrishnan (The writer is a former Chief of Bureau The Times of India, Mumbai)