ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Disciplining the Legislature

The desire to stay in power undermines the decency of legislative institutions.

 

On 23 March, unprecedented scenes of police action against the members of legislative assembly (MLAs) in Bihar were witnessed. What is more shocking is the fact that it happened right inside the assembly premises. Incidents of anti-riot police and rapid action force personnel ruthlessly assaulting the protesting opposition MLAs come as another instance of the ongoing process of trampling upon the rights and dignity of the elected legislators as well as the legislature as a whole. It is quite telling that repressive means were used against the opposition MLAs protesting the coercive provisions of the Bihar Police Bill that vests the special armed police officers with the power to carry out searches and arrests without serving a warrant. Such provisions which are authoritarian in intent give rise to fears that the police force would be more repressive with absolute powers. The use of police violence to suppress the ­critique of the bill gives credence to such fears raised by the ­opposition and points towards the authoritarian intentions of the ­National Democratic Alliance government.

Justifications extended for the decision to call police inside the assembly premises rest on the allegation of unruly behaviour of the opposition MLAs as the latter had held a sit-in outside the speaker’s chamber. Such grounds are flimsy to say the least, as such sit-ins or gheraos are not unprecedented occurrences and they have been handled in the past with sober consideration, through the dialogue initiated by the speaker and the chief minister/leader of the house. Even in extreme circumstances, the option of intervention by house marshalls could be exercised without using excessive force. In the case of Bihar, no such effort forthcoming on the part of the ruling alliance is indicative of its highhanded approach, and thus, the flimsy justification appears to have been a pretext to “discipline” the opposition as it were. Democratic virtues of dialogue and consensus-building were thus quite literally baton-charged in the Bihar Legislative Assembly, in order to achieve the now-overt, now-covert agenda of the opposition-mukt polity, which, in the present dispensation, however, is not just confined to Bihar. Such intentions are evident in the conduct and the utterances of the Bihar chief minister, who despite his attempt to dissociate himself from the decision to call in the police by attributing it solely to the speaker, has shown utter disdain towards the opposition and the legislative process as a whole. His statement to the ­effect that the ruling alliance is greater in numbers and hence the opposition should be careful, is not a mere assertion of parliamentary majority but loaded with a threatening tone that echoes the thuds of police batons and boots.

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Updated On : 10th Apr, 2021

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