On the day of the pepper spray incident in the Lok Sabha in February this year, the Parliamentary Security Service (PSS) was busy looking for snake-charmers. The trigger for this harried search was a terse bit of intelligence gathered by its men. “Aaj House mein cobra chhodenge (We’ll release a cobra in the House today),” an MP was reported to have told another.
Only a couple of hours remained to proceedings beginning in Parliament, and on the contentious issue of the creation of Telangana. The MPs wielding the fearsome snakes, the officials were told, would be those protesting against the proposed state.
Not allowed to frisk parliamentarians or their belongings, the PSS decided to keep a closer watch on the suspected “troublemakers”, await orders from the Speaker, look at the snake-charmer option, and pray for the best.
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It was only when then Congress MP L Rajagopal pulled out a pepper spray and released its contents inside the House — leaving many MPs stung, yes — that the “cobra” mystery was exposed.
In the commotion following the spraying of pepper, the PSS managed to get hold of the leather bag Rajagopal had carried into the House. Inside were at least a dozen pepper spray cans, some of them of the brand ‘Cobra’.
While Rajagopal, a prominent industrialist, had emptied two cans before he was overpowered, the others could have been meant for the use of fellow protesting MPs.
The PSS emerged wiser on the power of pepper from the incident, but the MPs preferred their pinch of salt. Following the incident, the Committee on Security in Parliament Complex met and considered that MPs be frisked or made to go through body scanners, but didn’t go through with the proposal.
Most MPs completely rejected being manually frisked, while many expressed “health and privacy concerns” over the use of body scanners.
The matter now appears to have been given a quiet burial. MPs continue to carry placards inside the House, for one. Recently, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan objected to this.