New Delhi, Aug. 4: Mamata Banerjee threw a sheaf of papers at the Speaker’s chair today, taking street-level protest into Parliament and drawing condemnation from fellow MPs on the other side who sought her apology.
She had once earlier chucked her shawl at then Speaker Purno Sangma and it wasn’t quite clear if today’s was the worse offence.
Not quite comparable, but earlier in the day the Speaker himself, Somnath Chatterjee, threatened to quit over the behaviour of an MP of his own party from Bengal.
But it’s not Bengali tantrums alone that added a blot or two to parliamentary records. Home minister Shivraj Patil was absent from the Lok Sabha when he was expected to respond to a motion. His colleague in external affairs, Natwar Singh, committed the same offence in the other House, forcing adjournments to cries of “shame, shame”.
After hurling papers at the presiding officer ' deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal was in the chair ' Mamata later sent her resignation through an officer of the House. It was later turned down by Chatterjee.
Mamata’s target was not Atwal but Chatterjee, her rival in Bengal politics. Atwal only informed her that the Speaker had disallowed her notice to raise the subject of illegal Bangladeshi migration.
“Illegal migrants from Bangladesh are also part of the voters’ list in West Bengal. The state government has done nothing about it. Therefore, the issue must be discussed,” she had said.
Atwal said the subject had already been debated for four hours on the opening day of the session.
“Whenever I want to raise an issue, I am not allowed to speak. As a member of this House, I also have the right to raise issues of concern to my people,” she said, attributing motives to the Speaker.
She said the Speaker was politically biased, but the comment was expunged.
What could not be expunged, because it was entirely visual, was the paper attack on Atwal. The sight would remain in collective memory, much like the incident where a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) member snatched the women’s reservation bill draft from the then minister of state for law, Thambidurai, when he stood up to present it in 1998.
Railway minister then, Mamata had spoken out strongly against the hooliganism.
After the paper-throwing incident, she stormed back towards her seat and appeared to be sobbing when Samajwadi member Jayaprada rushed to her as the rest of the House watched in shocked silence.
She then sent across her resignation to the deputy Speaker and walked out. “There is no point in my being a member if I am not allowed to raise people’s issues,” Mamata said once outside.
The Speaker, who rushed to the House after it adjourned twice over the incident, announced that the resignation was not in “proper order”.
First, it was addressed to the deputy Speaker and not the Speaker. Second, the resignation was “conditional”, officials said. Mamata said in the letter that if she was not allowed to speak, she would quit.
Pressure mounted from parties ' the Left was joined by the Samajwadis, BSP and RJD ' for an apology. The Speaker said he wanted Mamata to come back and act according to her conscience.
He stopped short of initiating action. While it is true that her allies in the BJP-led combine tried to shield her, surprisingly, the Congress appeared to be going soft.
“If the chair is not protected, it is a sad day for parliamentary democracy,” Chatterjee said, alluding to the Congress’s attitude.