In parliamentary democracy, the parliament and a state’s legislature reflect the mood and aspirations of the people. These are the houses of law and its members are lawmakers. So, suspension of MPs or MLAs have far reaching consequences, as they usually represent lakhs of citizens.
Maharashtra as a state came into being on May1, 1960 with Mumbai as its capital. It will be 53 years to that day soon. In all these years, the state legislature has witnessed suspensions of its members on a record 35 occasions.
The last instance was the ouster of five MLAs for their alleged involvement in beating up a traffic cop on March 19. As members of parliament and state legislature enjoy special privileges, suspension is difficult to digest as it prevents them from expressing their views in the house. It’s also a last resort for the speaker to ensure discipline.
The history of Maharashtra politics reveals that from 1960 to 1990, a period of 30 years, members of the state assembly were suspended on nine occasions. But, surprisingly, from 1991 to March 2013 — about 23 years — suspensions had to be resorted to on 26 occasions. These figures are alarming as an MLA’s absence deprives several lakh people from having their representative in the august house of democracy.
The suspensions of pre and post-1991 show a perceptible difference in the tone and direction of our democracy and the manner in which it’s moving forward. A cursory glance at the pre-1991 suspensions shows most of the members were debarred for creating ruckus on the issues close to people. During 1966 and 1967, a record 106 members were suspended for their rigid stance on the long-pending border dispute with Karnataka. The Marathi-speaking areas of Belgaum, Nipani, Karwar, Bhalki and Aurad from Karnataka have been demanding its merger with Maharashtra.
Apart from the border dispute, suspensions of legislators were over the issues of inflation, drought situation and scarcity of essential commodities whenever they sought to corner the then governments. The first suspension that was recorded in the history of Maharashtra legislature was of Jambuwantrao Dhote from Vidarbha region. His membership was cancelled in 1964 when he stunned the house by throwing a paperweight in the direction of the speaker’s chair.
Another exception was that of the then Shiv Sena member Chhagan Bhujbal when he unfolded a banner in the house, angering the chair in 1987. He was the lone member of Sena at the time and was shown the door for two days. The post-1991 era is of powerful political battles and also implies intense struggle between the mighty Congress and Shiv Sena- BJP combine. Around 1990, Shiv Sena-BJP combine was passionately working to unseat the Sharad Pawar-led Congress government. The next year, three Shiv Sena members were debarred for trying to physically hurt the then CM Sudhakarrao Naik, a protégé of Pawar.
From 1991 to 1999, the state legislature witnessed suspensions on seven occasions. And from the year 2000, suspensions have been recorded on 19 occasions. Considering the number, it may appear that the political conflict was serious. But, it must be noted that on most of these occasions the period of the suspensions was either reduced or cancelled. This wasn’t the case before 1995. The practice began during Shiv Sena-BJP rule, when a Congress member was pardoned after he sought an apology for displacing and throwing the mace in the assembly.
Circa 1999 the Congress-NCP governments appeared compassionate on most occasions and reduced the term of suspensions. In 1999, seven members of the Shiv Sena were suspended for seven days, but the period was later trimmed to two days. Later in 2000, the suspension period of eight Shiv Sena members was eased to six months from one year. So, when we talk about bringing discipline, the reconsiderations fail to hold up any considerable intent.
It won’t be wrong to say that successive attempts to reduce the period of suspensions will not deter someone from choosing rather aggressive modes of registering protests or create chaos in the house. Or, looking at it from another perspective, the harshest tool in democracy should not be worn out with excessive use.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY