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Noisy protests by MPs go against parliament's rule book
Sunday August 10, 2014 7:47 PM, Sreeparna Chakrabarty, IANS

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's recent storming to the Lok Sabha Speaker's podium and noisy protest might have charged up his party members, but it grossly violates the code of parliamentary etiquette laid out for members of parliament, officials familiar with the functioning of the house say.

In fact, not only Rahul Gandhi, but many others have resorted to trooping to the speaker's podium, shouting slogans, cross-talking and even resorting to abusive behaviour to raise issues in both the houses of parliament.

Most of them know that their behaviour could result in their suspension, but many MPs told IANS that resorting to slogan shouting or storming to the speaker's chair is sometimes needed to "stress a point" or is mere "theatrics".

Many dos and don'ts for elected representatives are issued from time to time. A June 10 Lok Sabha bulletin clearly spells out the norms to be followed by the MPs.

"The decorum and the seriousness of the proceedings of the house require that no member should shout slogans of any kind or sit on dharna in the pit of the house or stand up on the seat," it said.

Periodically, such bulletins remind MPs of the contents of paragraphs 42 and 43 of the Handbook for Members (16th edition) regarding parliamentary customs and conventions and parliamentary etiquette that are required to be observed by members.

According to former Lok Sabha secretary general P.D.T. Achary, trooping into the pit or well of the house is punishable by suspension.

"But it is hardly done because if you start suspending MPs for this, at least 50-60 members will have to be punished every day".

"It is finally up to the Speaker to decide how to tackle it. While the speaker should be flexible about letting MPs voice their concerns, he or she should try and be firm as far as misbehaviour is concerned," Achary told IANS.

According to Achary, during his tenure he had seen MPs coming to meet the Speaker before the house assembled and telling the Speaker that they will not allow the house to function. It is a way of scoring political points," he said.

In the 15th Lok Sabha, Speaker Meira Kumar took the unprecedented step of suspending nine members from Andhra Pradesh for five days, the second time in the same session, for their unruly behaviour over the division of the state.

A Trinamool Congress MP, who did not want to be named, however, told IANS that trooping into the well of the house was the only way in which opposition parties can highlight issues.

"Sometimes the diktat comes from the party high command. So we have to follow the directions," he added.

Agrees Apna Dal MP Anurpiya Patel. "When we are in the opposition, we have no option other than jumping into the well. The Indian electorate thinks that the opposition is doing its duty".

"The opposition has to create a space in the minds of the electorate. They understand this kind of behaviour. More than following parliamentary customs it is important to get a space in the minds of the voters. This is an easy way to do it," she adds.

But the BJP MP from Bijnore, Bhartendra Singh, feels such tactics are completely unnecessary.

"The opposition in fact gets more space than the ruling party in the parliamentary system," he told IANS.

He said the "drama by Rahul Gandhi was his way of trying to be relevant."

"It would have been better had he instead given a notice for discussion and participated in that," Singh said.

A combative Rahul Gandhi led a protest in the Lok Sabha Aug 6, demanding a discussion on communal violence and accused Speaker Sumitra Mahajan of gagging opposition MPs.

Several times during this session, Rahul Gandhi was seen at the edge of the well when Congress MPs entered the well to protest.

The Parliamentary Code of Ethics says that rulings given by the chair should not be criticised directly or indirectly inside or outside the house and display of exhibits on the floor of the house is not in order.

The code even tells MPs that the volume of the headphones provided at their seats should be turned down when not in use.

"A member should keep to her or his usual seat while addressing the house. A member should not sit or stand with his or her back towards the chair," it goes on to say.

Members should not stand in the passage of the chamber, they should not "cross the floor" when the house is session, and two members should not keep standing in the house at the same time.

MPs in fact should not even leave the house immediately after delivering their speeches.

"A member should not approach the chair personally in the house. He or she may send chits to the officers at the table, if necessary," it says.

MPs, mostly those in the opposition, say that they try to follow the rules, but there are occasions when they have to be "heard and seen."

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