What does a can of pepper spray have in common with a chapati being stuffed into an unwilling mouth? Both objects are functioning as weapons, each in the hands of an Indian member of parliament, the first a Congress MP, the second a Shiv Sena one. The MP wielding the pepper spray turned it on his colleagues inside the Lok Sabha in February, effectively transforming Parliament business into a street brawl. The Shiv Sena MP destroyed the dignity of Parliament and parliamentarians in public on July 17, by stuffing a chapati into the mouth of a fasting employee of the catering service in Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi in order to show him how bad the food was. The act was not merely aggressive, threatening and a violation of all notions of civility and dignity, but it was also, reportedly, deliberately insulting, since the employee so treated was on his Ramzan fast and had said so. His name, suggestive of his religion, was on his uniform tag. These are certainly not the only examples of unacceptable behaviour by MPs. Their conduct inside the House, particularly when they wish to protest, is ugly and violent enough. But India is also blessed with MPs such as Tapas Paul, who can declare openly that he would shoot his rivals and send ‘his boys’ to rape the women in their families. What is this vast electorate getting wrong when choosing their representatives? It should demand that, to contest elections, aspiring MPs must go through an intensive training course in old-fashioned concepts such as dignity, politeness, grace, sophistication in speech and so on, so as to be able to set an example in public behaviour, instead of exposing to the world their propensity for crude bullying and violence.
But an easier answer lies close at hand, only parties across the board will unite quietly to block it. The first step would be to ban all MPs and MP aspirants with criminal cases against them. The Shiv Sena MP in question reportedly has 19 cases pending against him, ranging from rioting to intentional insult in order to provoke breach of peace. How credible can he sound when he apologizes? The least that can be done now is to treat such behaviour as criminal. So far nothing has happened in Parliament to assure the people that this is likely. There is no reason, therefore, to expect MPs to improve their conduct or be accountable for their behaviour.