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Saturday, September 25, 2021

In rush to forbid words in MP assembly, powers that be may have forgotten what legislatures are all about

And perhaps most important of all, while it took three months to frame the list of words elected men and women cannot utter, the Monsoon Session of the MP assembly will meet for only four days.

By: Editorial |
Updated: August 10, 2021 8:59:32 am
The directions issued to the MLAs by the MP assembly is the first of its kind, but is unlikely to be the last.

Ullu ka patha certainly qualifies as “unparliamentary language”, and calling someone a “chaar sau bees” on the floor of the state legislature may well be stretching the bounds of rhetorical flourish. But the list of 1,560 words forbidden in the state assembly, compiled by officials in Madhya Pradesh over three months, also seems to be more pointed in some of its exclusions. After all, accusing the Treasury of “corruption”, “lying”, “murdering democracy” and “deceit” is much of what the Opposition does.

The directions issued to the MLAs by the MP assembly is the first of its kind, but is unlikely to be the last. After all, which political party in power wouldn’t want to stifle the most catchy criticisms of itself under the guise of maintaining decorum? The special status enjoyed by legislators across democracies — parliamentary privilege — can be among the peskiest forms of free speech. And like most forms of robust debate, it can turn unruly. In fact, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, while justifying the legislative assembly’s move, likened the House in session to a “fish market”.

Most people in India will be familiar with the “fish market” simile from their schooldays. Teachers have often employed the term to describe and control an over-excited bunch of kids. But MLAs, elected representatives of all kinds really, are not children and the House ought not to be run like a classroom, where obedience is more important than questions, mannerisms more important than criticism. And perhaps most important of all, while it took three months to frame the list of words elected men and women cannot utter, the Monsoon Session of the MP assembly will meet for only four days. It seems that in trying to create a minefield of rules to allow the House to function with “decorum”, the powers that be in MP forgot to slot time for it to meet.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 10, 2021 under the title ‘Classroom assembly’.

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