Patna, March 5: Their job is to uphold the dignity of the Assembly, standing behind the seat of the Speaker and control unruly members, if necessary march them out.
For over two decades, B.P. Sinha, the Marshal on duty at the Bihar Assembly, has been witness to chaotic scenes in the House and has often had to act tough with members.
He was, therefore, taken aback when a first-time legislator touched his feet — a gesture of respect according to Indian traditions, though in some parts of the country, it has taken on sycophantic proportions with senior politicians prostrating themselves before their leader.
For Manju Kumari, who was entering the Assembly for the first time following her recent victory in the byelection to the Kalyanpur seat, the gesture was spontaneous.
The 29-year-old homemaker was catapulted to the spotlight last month when the JD(U) chose to field her from Kalyanpur constituency in Samastipur district — 130km north of Patna — after withdrawing the ticket given to her father-in-law Ram Vilas Ram, who was found to be facing corruption charges. Manju won the election by defeating the LJP’s Rekha Paswan by 16,432 votes. Manju’s husband Santosh Kumar is a teacher in Kalyanpur.
The Assembly session was about to begin in seven minutes today when the car of water resources minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary reached the portico.
Choudhary, who too hails from Samastipur and was instrumental in getting her candidature through, had escorted Manju to the House.
The debutante MLA, wearing a peach-coloured saree with a blue border, her ghoonghat firmly in place, followed Choudhary into the Assembly and started walking towards the chamber of Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary. Outside the room stood Marshal Sinha, the six-foot tall, 50-something guardian of the House, resplendent in his uniform.
The marshal, a gazetted officer of the rank of deputy superintendent of police, is the chief security officer of the Assembly and is assisted by the ward and watch staff in discharging his duties.
Before entering the Speaker’s chamber, Vijay Choudhary stopped for a while and introduced Manju to the marshal. Without losing a second, the newest member — who has cleared Intermediate — stooped down and touched the marshal's feet.
The minister was taken aback. “He is the marshal of the Assembly, you do not need to touch his feet,” Vijay Choudhary told Manju.
Marshal Sinha was embarrassed, but with a smile on his face, he held both hands of the MLA and pulled her up.
“Ma’am, do not touch my feet, you are not supposed to do so, please do not embarrass me,” Sinha said.
Manju sought the marshal’s blessings and guided by the minister, entered the Speaker’s chamber.
The usually serious marshal, not otherwise known to express his emotions, still had a smile on his face when The Telegraph asked him if he had ever had a similar experience in the past. Sinha could not recall any such instance. “She is the new MLA from Kalyanpur. But she is so simple,” he gushed.
After taking the blessings of the Speaker, Manju, who has also been a panchayat teacher, walked towards the House as proceedings were about to begin.
She entered the House and took oath in front of the Speaker. Then she was asked to sign on the Assembly register, after which she made the customary round of the Speaker’s chair.
She greeted Opposition leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui with folded hands and before going over to her allotted seat, Manju walked towards chief minister Nitish Kumar and touched his feet.
For Manju though, touching the feet is no big deal. “I was not aware and did not have any idea whose feet to touch and whose not to,” she told The Telegraph when asked why she had sought the blessings of the marshal. “But he is an elderly person and we touch the feet of the elderly. This is a tradition we have grown up with.”