Unparliamentary Privilege

The disruptive language policing inside the houses of legislature

01 November 2016
Some of the words in the book, when directed against others as insults, are purely invectives: maneater,” “mad dog,” “Pakistani agent,” “psychopath.” But presence of other words in the book such as “honesty” and “speech” can be perplexing.
sandhya visvanathan
Some of the words in the book, when directed against others as insults, are purely invectives: maneater,” “mad dog,” “Pakistani agent,” “psychopath.” But presence of other words in the book such as “honesty” and “speech” can be perplexing.
sandhya visvanathan

On 15 July 2014, during the budget session of the Rajya Sabha, the Bharatiya Janata Party government was trying to pass an ordinance to amend the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act. Mani Shankar Aiyar, a member of parliament from the Congress, got up to speak, and alleged that the amendment was being proposed in order to appoint “one single person” to the staff of the prime minister.

He said that the BJP had been constantly adopting the ordinance route, and was bypassing “propriety, procedure and precedent,” describing the ruling party’s reasons for amending the act as “nonsense.” At this, the House broke into murmurs, and PJ Kurien, the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, interrupted Aiyar. “‘Nonsense.’ Is it unparliamentary or parliamentary?” he asked his staff. Aiyar responded, “Sir… I am happy to withdraw it. The point I am trying to make is that…” An official of the Parliament Security Services hurriedly brought a book to the deputy chairman’s chair.

Aiyar continued his speech, “I know he is a new boy and though he will get away with it ...” Now the parliament became noisy, and shouts of protest could be clearly heard. Ravi Shankar Prasad, then the union law minister, stood up from his seat and, addressing Kurien, said, “Sir, he called the PM a ‘new boy.’ It is not fair.” Members raised their voices, indignant over the perceived insult to the prime minister. “He cannot say anything,” shouted one member. Aiyar said, “No, sir. I refuse to yield.” The deputy chairman tilted the four microphones on his desk and announced, “That is expunged … ‘new boy’ is expunged.”

Basit Malik is an independent journalist based in Delhi.

Ahyaan Raghuvanshi is a former intern at The Caravan.

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