On July 4, a discussion on the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax law in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly deteriorated into a slanging match between lawmakers from the ruling alliance and Opposition. Among other incidents, Imran Ansari of the Peoples’ Democratic Party told Opposition member and National Conference lawmaker Devender Rana: “I can lynch you here.”
Coming in the wake of the series of lynchings that have taken place across India, mostly of Muslims, and mostly by mobs claiming to protect the cow, this remark was spectacularly insensitive.
But this was just the latest in the long line of egregious incidents the state Assembly has witnessed over the years.
History repeats itself
Abdul Rashid Kabuli, a former MP and MLA from Jammu and Kashmir, said that the quality of discussions s in the state Assembly began to slide decades ago.
Kabuli said that as far back as the 1970s, lawmaker Mohammad Shafi Uri broke microphones in the Assembly and threw them. That was possibly the first time the microphones in the House were damaged. It was not the last. “There was talk of passing a resolution to remove him [Uri],” said Kabuli. “But it did not happen as we thought it would set a dangerous precedent.”
According to Kabuli, another low came in the mid-1980s when Ghulam Mohammad Shah toppled the democratically-elected National Conference government led by Farooq Abdullah. “It started when Ghulam Mohammad Shah bought 16 MLAs [into the Assembly] to support himself,” said Kabuli. “Then one day the Speaker was beaten and removed from his chair. Since there was no Speaker, there was no one to adjourn the session. There were even goons from outside the Assembly.”
In July 2009, when the National Conference was in power, Mehbooba Mufti, now the chief minister, threw a microphone at Akbar Lone, the Speaker at that time, when he did not allow her to raise the issue of the alleged rapes of two women in Shopian. An infuriated Lone shouted for her to be removed from the Assembly.
However, a 2011 brawl in the Assembly possibly plumbed new depths. The incident, which occurred on October 3, saw the late Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, and Speaker Lone exchanging abuses and taunts while Chief Minister Omar Abdullah watched silently.
Besides hurling invectives, Lone called the late MLA a “traitor”, “income-tax thief” and threatened to slit his throat. The exchange took place when the Opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party sought the adjournment of the business of the House to discuss the issue of the death of a National Conference worker, allegedly in police custody. The incident led the Peoples’ Democratic Party to stage a protest and demand an apology from Chief Minister Abdullah.
Lone’s rant during the verbal duel with Ansari is still famous in the Valley and has crept into daily conversations in the form of sarcasm. The video of the confrontation even went viral.
Earlier this year, in February, Lone’s hallmark aggression was back when he and another National Conference legislator scuffled with Forest Minister Chaudhary Lal Singh over his remarks as they were staging a walkout over remarks made by Chief Minister Mufti. Other National Conference members threw papers, microphones, and chairs as Assembly staff attempted to control the situation. The House was adjourned for 10 minutes.
Lone was quoted by news channel NDTV as saying that the incident was a result of a spontaneous reaction. “Things like this have happened several times in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country,” he said. “Such vandalism is deemed to be a part of democracy.”
During the term of the current Assembly, Langate MLA Rashid Sheikh, an independent, has outdone himself inside and outside the House. The maverick MLA has often been in the news for creating a ruckus, making inflammatory statements and for his detentions by the police.
In August, 2015, Sheikh forced Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Chowdhry Zulfikar to tender an apology after a review meeting in Kupwara led to heated arguments between members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and Sheikh. According to Kashmir Images newspaper, Sheikh and his supporters then blocked Zulfikar’s exit from the Dak Bungalow where the meeting was being held, and let him go only after he apologised.
Two months later, in October, in the wake of a Jammu High Court order implementing a ban on beef in the state, Sheikh held what he claimed was a “beef party”. This led Bharatiya Janata Party legislators, led by Ravinder Raina, to beat up Sheikh in the Assembly minutes before the House was to begin its proceedings. The Opposition then staged a walkout. (Click here to see video.)
Kabuli recalled that there was a time that Sheikh Abdullah would express pride in the “state’s legislators being the best in India”. Kabuli added: “Even though some came in uncontested, we had a dedicated and educated cadre that worked for their constituencies [at that time]. The incidents that we see today did not happen back then.”