New Delhi: Indian politics touched a new low Thursday as an Andhra Pradesh MP opposed to Telangana used pepper spray in the Lok Sabha, triggering unprecedented clashes and leaving 16 MPs suspended for turning parliament into a house of shame.
Indian members of parliament who were affected by pepper spray are taken to hospital in an ambulance at the Parliament House, New Delhi, on February 13, 2014. Pic: AFP
Lagadapati Rajagopal, one of six MPs expelled from the Congress this week, was assaulted by fellow parliamentarians and taken out of the house by marshals after he sprayed the pungent pepper at startled parliamentarians to vent his anger over the decision to carve out Telangana state.
During what turned out to be another tumultuous day in parliament over Telangana, MPs came to blows, a mike was ripped out, glass shattered and a computer was smashed.
Both Speaker Meira Kumar and leaders of political parties described the Thursday turmoil as a blot on Indian democracy. Janata Dal-United’s Sharad Yadav branded Rajagopal’s conduct as sedition.
"This is an attack on our democracy and it is nothing short of sedition," said Yadav, who was in the Lok Sabha when Rajagopal did the unthinkable.
"If the strongest action is not taken, it will be difficult for parliament to run."
Rajagopal's frenzy sent scores of MPs and Lok Sabha officials -- and journalists in the media gallery -- running for cover, coughing violently and with a burning sensation in their eyes.
A pungent odour enveloped the house, adding to the chaos caused by the unending sloganeering and disruptions since morning.
Amid the commotion, the UPA government managed to introduce a bill that would pave the way to carve out a Telangana state out of Andhra Pradesh -- precisely the issue over which Rajagopal was protesting. But the BJP and some others contested this claim.
TDP member M. Venugopala, who too is against Andhra Pradesh’s break up, wrenched the speaker's microphone.
He refused to apologize for the behaviour.
“No, I didn’t do anything wrong,” the agitated MP said. “I was protesting. How dare they break up Andhra Pradesh?”
Sixteen Lok Sabha MPs were suspended for five days. They included five of the Congress, four of the TDP, two of the YSR Congress including its leader Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy as well as five expelled by the Congress this week.
The Lok Sabha did meet again but there was no normalcy. Andhra Pradesh MPs again walked towards the speaker shouting slogans, joined by Tamil Nadu members equally angry over the attacks on their fishermen by the Sri Lanka Navy.
Amid the renewed chaos, an Andhra MP collapsed and was rushed to hospital.
If all this wasn’t enough, supporters and opponents of Telangana fought with one another outside the house, leaving an unspecified number injured.
The Rajya Sabha, which too witnessed noisy disturbances, was adjourned for the day. And so was the Lok Sabha.
In the upper house, Congress member K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao and TDP's Y.S. Chowdhary and C.M. Ramesh stood in front of the chairman's podium holding placards that demanded a “United Andhra Pradesh!”
TDP's Gundu Sudha Rani and some Congress leaders in turn flashed a placard seeking Telangana.
The Lok Sabha developments drew widespread condemnation.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said Thursday's ruckus "is a big blot on our parliamentary democracy... It is a very shameful act".
Said Meira Kumar: "Our democracy is admired throughout the world. What has happened today is a blot.”
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde promised “strict action” against the MPs.
Rajagopal and other MPs from the Seemandhra region are bitterly opposed to the division of Andhra Pradesh.
They have been staging noisy protests in the Lok Sabha right from the day it convened Feb 5, leaving both houses crippled day after day.
The BJP and the CPI-M blamed the Congress for the chaos, saying it was not unable to rein in its own ministers and MPs.
BJP leader L.K. Advani, one of India’s most experienced parliamentarians, described the events as “disgraceful”.
There will be no parliament session Friday on account of a holiday.