It is a pity that the minister closest to the football field, the president of the All India Football Federation, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, is no longer looking after parliamentary affairs. That would have been a perfect convergence. For, by the end of April, after a week of unabated rowdiness and constant disruptions of business in the Lok Sabha, the Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, was rebuking members of parliament for treating the House as an akhda, or wrestling ring. He could well have called it a football field. That would have been closer to the House.
The Speaker has tried everything. Mr Chatterjee has pleaded and cajoled, roared and threatened, lamented the “murder of democracy” and the “disease” of interrupting the Speaker, has called zero hour “the torture hour”, tried — and failed — to push a “no work no pay” policy, and even ordered television cameras to be switched off “out of shame” when the Opposition went haywire trying to get an adjournment over the alleged abuse of power by the shipping minister, T.R. Baalu. Nothing has worked so far: MPs remain as deliberately obstructive and oblivious to responsibilities as before, as if the tradition of question, answer and argument had never existed in the Indian parliament.
In a last-ditch effort, Mr Chatterjee has taken the unprecedented step of referring 32 MPs to the privileges committee for investigation into misconduct, specifically for the display of total indiscipline on April 24. Opposition members stormed the well for the millionth time, shouting slogans and ignoring the Speaker, in protest against the government’s failure to check price rise. Even the parliamentary committee recommending a code of conduct for MPs has admitted that codes are useless if there are no penal provisions. True, the Lok Sabha does punish those it thinks are seriously bad boys — it had expelled the 10 MPs caught taking money to raise questions, and suspended a few others for various irregularities once in a while. But reckless indiscipline and repeated aborting of parliamentary business by not one or two, but by numbers of MPs acting like a gang is a different kettle of rampaging fish altogether.
The allusions to wrestling rings and football grounds, therefore, are more than apt. What the incurably unruly MPs need is a taste of the yellow card. All that would require is an amendment to the Representation of the People Act to introduce an equivalent of the yellow card from soccer. One yellow card would be the first warning, a second would mean out of the field for the rest of the session. And a red card would debar an MP from the House for the current session and the next one, and also from contesting polls that are to follow. There is a brutal purity about the language of yellow cards that even the most alphabetically challenged of MPs would be forced to appreciate. The well of the House would remain peaceful, and soccer would have done the public a service.