Disorder can only be justified as a means to a more just order. Angry protests have their place in Parliament and the legislatures, just as they do in the streets and public spaces, but they should not be allowed to displace reasoned debate and informed decision-making. Vice-President Hamid Ansari was thus right in rebuking unruly members of the Rajya Sabha who did not allow him to conduct the business of the House earlier this week. “Every single rule in the rule book, every single [bit of] etiquette is being violated...If the Hon’ble members wish the House to become a federation of anarchists, then it is a different matter,” he noted when faced with disruptions from members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party. Members of Parliament who want his remarks expunged would do well to reflect on their own behaviour. Surely, if they are so alarmed at hearing the word “anarchists,” they should support strict adherence to the rule book in Parliament. There is really no cause for Mr. Ansari to withdraw his remarks. In any case, he did not refer to the House as a federation of anarchists; he only wondered whether the members wanted to make it one. As he himself has clarified, this was more in the nature of a question than an allegation or an observation. The matter should be allowed to rest here.

But the larger issue is not about expunging the remarks or letting them stay on the record. If all the voices in Parliament are not to be drowned in noise, then political parties must agree on not letting debate sink to the levels of a slanging match. The live telecast of proceedings, far from improving decorum, seems to have only contributed to attention-seeking disorders. On occasions, a few unruly members have been able to stall proceedings of Parliament taking advantage of the silence of the majority. The Women’s Reservation Bill, for instance, which supposedly had the support of an overwhelming number of MPs, could not be passed in the Lok Sabha thanks to the antics of members of parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Although the presiding officers of the House have powers to evict members, these are, quite rightly, used sparingly in Parliament. But if floor leaders of the parties are unwilling or unable to ensure good behaviour in the House and conditions for meaningful debate, then there will be a public clamour for harsher methods of dealing with deviant members. When MPs and legislators fail to use their mandate as representatives of the people in focusing attention on important issues and raising the quality of debate, public confidence in democratic institutions can only get eroded.

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