Last week, legislator M Subramanian from the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam raised an important issue in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. The former Chennai mayor, now an MLA from the state capital's Saidapet constituency, questioned the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government on Tamil Nadu’s preparedness for the impending North East monsoon, a year after Chennai and other cities were submerged for weeks after torrential rain.
Subramanian was continually interrupted by AIADMK ministers as he spoke and his queries met with no responses. The DMK, however, did not protest then. Nor did it protest when its other elected representatives were heckled in this manner by the ruling party.
Mayhem in the Assembly
But on July 26, the party was up in arms when AIADMK legislator PM Narasimhan referred to DMK supremo M Karunanidhi by name. As incensed party members asked whether it was appropriate to call a former chief minister by name, Speaker P Dhanapal said the house only had a tradition not to refer to the current chief minister – in this case, J Jayalalithaa – by name but by designation. Eventually, the DMK’s 89 legislators (in the 234-member assembly) staged a walkout.
On August 17, another charade played itself out in the state Assembly which culminated in Opposition Leader MK Stalin of the DMK being carried out of the by marshals and 79 DMK MLAs being suspended for a week.
The trigger for the mayhem was a comment that AIADMK’s S Gunasekaran made about the Namaku Naame (we for ourselves) statewide outreach campaign led by Stalin in 2015-16, ahead of Assembly elections in May. Though Gunasekaran had not taken any names, the DMK MLAs contended that Namaku Naame was Stalin’s initiative and therefore there was no doubt that the comment referred to him. They demanded that the speaker expunge the statement – not mention it in the Assembly session records.
When DMK members reportedly refused to quieten down, the speaker ordered marshals to evict them from the House and the MLAs were suspended.
High drama followed over the next few days – suspended legislators held a mock Assembly session outside the House, this prompted the police register FIRs against them and the Opposition moved the Madras High Court against the suspension of DMK legislators, which the first bench on Monday declined to stay.
While the DMK alleged a breakdown of the democratic process in the state, with Karunanidhi declaring that protests will be intensified, and AIADMK’s Jayalithaa has retorted by challenging the DMK chief to attend and address the Assembly. In this mayhem, political analysts said, the ultimate losers are citizens, whom the House claims to represent.
“The issues that have been most discussed in this session are whether or not the names of the DMK and AIADMK chiefs can be taken in the House and over the mention of Namaku Naame – not on any substansive issue that is relevant to the people of Tamil Nadu” said RK Radhakrishnan, a senior journalist who has covered politics in the state for many years.
Political watcher Srinivasan, who runs the Prime Point Foundation that gives the Sansad Ratna award each year to the best performing Parliamentarians at the Centre, said both parties were to blame for the poor productivity of the House.
“It’s like a fight between children,” said Srinivasan. “I do not want to get into any specifics, but overall, there must be decorum in the House. MLAs must remember that they represent the people and speak about issues affecting people. This is not happening.”
En-masse suspensions are not new to the Tamil Nadu Assembly, though this is reportedly the first time that marshals were ordered to evict DMK legislators.
In October 2007, when the DMK was in power, all AIADMK MLAs were suspended from the House after they protested against Stalin, then the deputy chief minister, for moving a privilege motion against Leader of Opposition Jayalalithaa. The previous year in May, Jayalalithaa attended the Assembly session as the lone AIADMK represented after all other MLAs had been suspended. In January 2011, the last year of DMK’s rule, nine AIADMK MLAs were suspended for interrupting the Governor’s address.
In February 2015, 19 of 21 MLAs of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam were suspended after they protested against chief minister Jayalalithaa’s comments on their leader Vijaykanth, then the leader of the Opposition. Party MLAs flung papers around the House and a portion of the speaker’s podium was damaged in the ensuing ruckus. In April 2015, six MLAs of the party were suspended for the rest of the ongoing session as well as for the first 10 days of the next Assembly session. In February, the Supreme Court set aside the suspension of these six MLAs.
“Since 1991 – except when PTR Palanivel Rajan was speaker, from 2006-’11 – the tradition of allowing the Opposition to speak uninterrupted on important issues has not been followed,” said Radhakrishnan. “This has been more obvious when the AIADMK is in power, as opposed to the DMK [these are the only two parties to ruled the state since 1969] Important issues like job creation, concerns regarding what will happen when the Goods and Services Tax is implemented, confusion over NEET [National Eligibility cum Entrance Test] – none of these have figured in the debates so far,” he said.
Radhakrishnan said the DMK needs to be more responsible as the main Opposition party. “There are still eight DMK MLAs who have not been suspended,” he said. “Why are they not being allowed to attend the session? The DMK is not helping its cause when it does not allow these MLAs to attend, especially when it is crying over the breakdown of democracy.”
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