Fight in Indian Parliament – a Part of Global Bloodsport
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on February 16, 2014
The passions at work in this picture from Ukraine’s parliament are all too real and all too dangerous
NEW DELHI — A lawmaker sprayed pepper spray inside India’s Parliament on Thursday, creating chaos that left his colleagues coughing and crying as they were ushered from the hall, in a protest over a long-contentious proposal to create a new southern state.
Lawmakers had been set to vote on whether to create Telangana state from the mostly poor, inland districts of Andhra Pradesh. For months as it has been drafted, the plan has inspired passionate protests and arguments for keeping the state unified. A key point of contention has been the proposal to include wealthy tech and industrial hub Hyderabad within Telangana.
Article from Guardian
Overweight men, mostly in suits and ties, heave at one another, like a beach of maddened seals. They push and punch and jostle in a densely packed scrum, their bodies crammed between fixed wooden benches. This picture captures the moment a brawl broke out in Ukraine’s parliament. It is a dynamic image of one of the world’s strangest bloodsports: parliamentary fighting.
Scenes like this are surprisingly common inside legislative assemblies around the world. There was a previous bust-up in the Ukrainian parliament just 10 months ago. Georgia also saw a parliamentary fight recently, while chaotic scenes have been known to erupt in the parliaments of Taiwan, Somalia, Bolivia, Argentina and Nigeria. One of the biggest parliamentary fights, in India, looks on YouTube like a full-scale riot inside the national assembly, with members hurling microphones as non-participants flee the chamber.
Aficionados of muscular politics enjoy these fights. They even collect images of them online. After the Labour MP Eric Joyce brawled in a bar at the House of Commons, political bloggers rated the best political fistfights.
Does fighting disgrace an electoral assembly, or does it prove that politicians care about their beliefs? The picture from Ukraine’s heated debating chamber communicates passion and intensity. These men appear to be fighting for their lives, not just a point of order. The anger they express with their bodies is – in a picture – more attractive than a moribund assembly where half-awake MPs debate a bill no one cares about.
Might the occasional fist fight restore people’s engagement with parliamentary politics in Britain? It is true the House of Commons is notoriously adversarial. Its critics are alienated by the rutting rivalry of leaders locked in ritual verbal conflict at prime minister’s question time. But surely the problem is not the display of antipathy – it is the phoney feel of it all, as opposing parties score points like public school debaters.
At least in the Ukraine they really mean it. No one in the scenes of this week’s fight is striking a pose. Subsequent photographs of the episode show a man with real blood on his face. The point scoring exchanges of words that echo in the House of Commons all too often seem bloodless.
Sometimes physical violence is – surely – the honest answer to weasel words. After the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972 the home secretary, Reginald Maudling, supported the British paratroopers’ version of events in the House of Commons. Bernadette Devlin MP was not called by the Speaker, so she went up to Maudling and hit him.
Yet for all the appeal of a parliamentary fight club that answers false rhetoric with spontaneous aggression (we now know Maudling was supporting an untrue version of events), it is of course a slippery slope to civil disaster. Parliaments exist to resolve disputes without violence. Their whole function is to replace fighting with words – and if the rhetoric rings hollow it needs to be infused with greater truth. A punch is not true eloquence, even if Devlin’s came close.
The passions at work in this picture from Ukraine’s parliament are all too real and all too dangerous. As the pro-Russia policies of president Viktor Yanukovych push the opposition ever further into dissent, this fight broke out in a budget debate that was ended with a show of hands rather than the usual electronic vote: in the same session a measure was passed to criminalise activities related to public protest. In reality, fighting in parliament is quite likely to be a danger signal of a society splitting apart.
This is apparent from one of the bloodiest fights ever seen in an electoral chamber, which took place in America in the 1850s. In 1856, Preston Brooks of South Carolina beat Charles Sumner unconscious with a cane in the Senate. Sumner’s offence was to criticise Brooks for supporting slavery. This fight was a sign of things to come. Within a few years Americans would be killing Americans.
Ukraine’s parliamentarians take note: a house divided against itself cannot stand.