Keeping up with UP| House challenge: From brawls to tech-driven bonhomie?

In 1993 and 1997, the red carpets of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Legislative Assembly were stained with blood. The lawmakers had fought ugly battles using mics, glass shards, glasses, paper weights and chairs as missiles, leaving several ministers, the leader of opposition and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from all parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress — grievously injured. Doctors were called in to give first-aid.

Senior journalists covering the proceedings said, “Now, we will send crime reporters to cover the House,” as they saw senior police officials walk into the assembly, a rare sight in any Vidhan Sabha where the writ of the Speaker runs large and where only assembly guards are deployed to maintain decorum and remove irate members. Dharnas and demonstrations in the Well of the House are a common sight across the country, but near-bloodbath is not.

The UP Vidhan Sabha, the largest in the country with 403 members, was built in 1922 after the capital was moved from Allahabad to Lucknow. About five years were spent on the construction of the building, an example of Indo-European architectural craftsmanship, costing about 21 lakh.

To quote from the official website of the UP Legislative Assembly, “The front part of this crescent shaped two-storeyed structure is built with carved light brown sandstone blocks from Mirzapur (Chunar). At the centre of the crescent is a large Gothic dome with an attractive “Chhatry” or sky light. Figures sculpted from stone blocks surround the facade of the dome. Above the tri-arched front of the portico is placed the State emblem (crest) carved in marble. Many of the inside halls, galleries and verandahs are built of Agra and Jaipur marble. Beautiful circular marble staircases run on both sides of the entrance hall. The walls of these staircases have now been embellished with beautiful paintings.”

However, the Vidhan Sabha made more news for the speeches that leaders delivered and there was a time when new MLAs used to browse the proceedings in the library to learn from speeches of stalwarts like Charan Singh, Govind Ballabh Pant, Kamlapati Tripathi, Narayan Datt Tiwari and Kalyan Singh to name a few. Few now turn the pages of the thick volumes containing records of the proceedings to learn from the past.

In today’s environment of intolerance and provocations, pandemonium has become the order of the day in many assemblies, so much so that paper missiles are thrown in Parliament.

Once again, a new-look House is all set to greet the newly elected members of the 18th UP Vidhan Sabha on May 23, and they will find tablets on their desks. However, all tablets will be fixed on their desks as a precaution, leaving no scope for their misuse. However, UP assembly speaker Satish Mahana quips lightly, “I am not going to get broken tablets repaired.”

The members of the House have come a long way from the days when they depended on their children to operate it. The first time when MLAs were given laptops, one of them asked, “Yeh laptop kya cheese hai?” Now, the machine plays a crucial role in contesting elections.

Satish Mahana, an MLA, says, “Today, we have to be tech savvy to keep pace with the development of the country.”

However, the biggest challenge before the Speaker, an eight-time MLA, is to ensure decorum and discussions in the House. His long experience may come in handy though he is still struggling with a plan to ensure bonhomie instead of brawls in the House.

So, one step is to expose the public representatives before their voters and supporters by live-streaming the proceedings through social media platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube. People in even the remotest village can watch their MLA’s conduct and contribution in developing the area.

“Once House proceedings are live-streamed to people through Facebook Live, YouTube and other social media platforms, the MLAs will be more cautious about their conduct in the House and will be under psychological pressure to attend the House more frequently and ask questions pertaining to the problems in their constituencies,” he says.

Mahana hopes that this will help increase the MLAs’ participation in debates and discussions in the House. Barring the zero hour, when members raise public or personal issues, the seats remain vacant most of the day.

But will the public prefer discussion to dabang behaviour? I recall an MLA from Chunar in Mirzapur, who used to play pranks to draw the speaker’s attention. Once confronted by newspapers about his conduct, he said: “That’s what my constituents want. After all they want to see fire in their MLA’s belly.”

So, while the Speaker believes that the live-streaming of the proceedings will make the MLAs more cautious about their conduct, there may be some who would use the platforms to build their “dabang” image.

There was a time when the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, mesmerised by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s speech in Parliament, had even said that this young man would be the country’s prime minister one day. Vajpayee’s speeches in Parliament were masterpieces as he always emphasised parliamentary democracy. He had once said that the growing wedge between the ruling and opposition parties was dangerous for democracy.

However, over the year, the budget sessions have got curtailed as even the budgetary grants of several departments are passed in a jiffy amid pandemonium. The opposition, which now uses social media extensively to expose the government, somehow fails to make their submissions on the floor of the House. I sometimes wonder about the legacy they will leave behind for the members who will find little to read in the libraries except for disruptions.

From her perch in Lucknow, HT’s resident editor Sunita Aron highlights important issues related to Uttar Pradesh

The views expressed are personal

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