India’s Functioning Anarchy

NEW DELHI – Every year, during India’s rainy season, there is, equally predictably, a “monsoon session” of Parliament. And, every year, there seems to be increasing debate about which is stormier – the weather or the legislature.

Consider the current session, which began on August 1. The opening day was adjourned, in keeping with traditional practice, to mourn the death between sessions of a sitting member of parliament. But the adjournment did not come before a routine courtesy greeting to the visiting Speaker of Sri Lanka’s parliament was interrupted by Tamil MPs from a regional party, who rose to their feet to shout demands for his expulsion because of his government’s behavior towards that country’s Tamil minority. The errant MPs were rapidly silenced, and the visitor received a table-thumping welcome from the rest of the House.

Matters were not so swiftly resolved, however, the next day. No sooner had a newly-elected member taken his oath than a number of MPs from the Bahujan Samaj Party, which rules India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, stormed into the well of the House, shouting slogans and waving placards in protest against the government’s land-acquisition policies.

The Speaker attempted for a few minutes to get them to return to their seats, then gave up and adjourned the session for an hour. When the MPs reassembled, the opposition members – now joined by MPs from a rival regional party – marched towards the Speaker’s desk, making even more noise. After a few more ineffectual minutes of trying to be heard above the din, the Speaker adjourned Parliament again. One more attempt was made before the House adjourned for the day, with no item of legislative business transacted.