The raucous scenes in the Kerala legislative assembly last week reflected poorly on its political class. Never before has the state assembly witnessed the sort of disruption, including physical violence, that Left Democratic Front (LDF) MLAs resorted to in a bid to prevent Finance Minister K.M. Mani from presenting the state budget — Mani is facing corruption allegations. Five opposition MLAs have been suspended and the police has filed a case against some unnamed legislators for destroying public property. Governor P. Sathasivam has warned that the events in the assembly could affect legislative business, cause a breakdown of constitutional norms and even be interpreted as a fit case to invoke Article 356.
The opposition’s complaint against Mani, who heads an important constituent of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), is understandable, but its conduct in the House is inexcusable. Parties have every right to protest, but they must respect the sanctity of institutions — in this case, the assembly. An FIR was filed against Mani, who has been a legislator for over 50 years, after a liquor baron accused him of taking a bribe. While a detailed investigation is on, more bribery allegations against the minister have surfaced. The allegations are yet to be proved, but so far, ministers accused of serious corruption in Kerala have been known to quit office during investigation. The Oommen Chandy government, however, has ignored the compelling argument that a minister has no moral right to continue in office when accused of bribery charges until he clears his name.
Yet the LDF may not have helped its case by resorting to unruly behaviour in the House, in full view of the TV cameras. The unedifying spectacle of MLAs climbing on to the speaker’s dais and attacking the security staff is unlikely to help win over public opinion. It only shows a lack of imagination and purpose when parties disrupt the House to force a minister’s resignation, instead of forcefully making their argument inside it and supplementing it with public action that addresses the people outside it.