A distressing feature of the legislature sittings in recent times is the tendency of the members to indulge in mutual recrimination, trading wild allegations and even in personal abuse to the detriment of purposeful discussion. These developments have eroded the dignity of the legislatures and the image of their members. The current trend of sound and fury marks a lamentable departure from the times when debates were more meaningful and of a reasonably good quality. Protests or angry exchanges centred on issues and not on individual ego. Rancour or bad blood was almost unheard of, however deep the ideological divide between the parties or members be.
As one who has covered the AP Legislative Assembly proceedings for 30 years, I am witness to the transformation. Quality of debate apart, the biggest casualty is sparkling wit and humour. The House during that period had such stalwarts as Putchalapally Sundarayya, Vavilala Gopalakrishnayya, Tenneti Viswanadham, CVK Rao, Gowthu Latchanna, Ch. Rajeswara Rao, V. Srikrishna, M. Omkar, A. Sreeramulu, N. Sreenivasul Reddi, S. Jaipal Reddy, M. Venkaiah Naidu, J. Eswaribai, Salahuddin Owaisi, Kasu Brahmananda Reddi, J. Vengala Rao to name a few.
This is not to say that the House was free of walk-outs, angry protests, rush to the well of the house etc, but in doing so, the members did not overstep limits of decency. A diversionary wit or sobering intervention by an elderly member helped soothe frayed tempers and restore calm. Those who argued bitterly in the House indulged in light-hearted banter in the lobbies.
Sample some humour. Raja Sagi Suryanarayana Raju, scion of a royal family and Minister in Vengala Rao ministry, would come dressed like a maharaja – expensive chains, ear studs, rings on almost all fingers, and turban. The sombre-looking Nallapureddi Sreenivasul Reddy often reduced the House in splits. The irrepressible NSR reminded Raju garu that monarchy was dead and gone. People were the rulers now. Not satisfied with the royal trappings, he had two ‘Rajus’ to his name. Is this fair, he asked? Far from taking offence, the minister gave him back ‘don’t you have two ‘Reddis’ tagged to your name, as if one were not enough. Is that fair?’
Then we had our ever-smiling CVK Rao. The House was discussing family planning when Rao feigning innocence asked ‘Nirodh ante emity saar? (What is Nirodh (protection), sir)’. “Adi meeku ardham kaadu lendi, koorchondi (That you wouldn’t know, please sit down),” the chair advised the bachelor member from Kakinada.
There was never a dull moment when M. Venkaiah Naidu was in the House. He was a master of humour and alliteration, skills that continue to stay with him. He complained that the chief minister Anjaiah was not accessible to the general public or even to the MLAs. ‘Intlo kaluddaamanukunte Indrasain untaadu, janamlo kaluddamante Janardhan untaadu………Ela adhyaksha?’, he lamented. He said the Congress had disintegrated into Cong I, Cong R, Cong (S), the Janata party into Janata Dal, Lok Dal and ‘Parlok Dal’ while the communist friends splintered into CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML), naxalites, tube lights and torch lights.
Gajwel Saidiah sent the House roaring with laughter while expressing his disappointment at the Chief Minister Brahamanda Reddi not visiting his constituency as promised. “I made all arrangements to welcome him, but he f…ked off directly to Hyderabad’ , he complained innocuously employing an expression very commonly used locally, but outrageously unparliamentary. The CM also joined the chorus.
It was question time in the Legislative Council. Chandrababu Naidu, newly inducted into the Cabinet, was handling supplementaries relating to Cinematography. Children sitting in parent’s lap will not be charged, he explained. ‘What if an adult sits in the lap of another? Will it be two tickets or one?’ a woman member enquired with a mischievous twinkle in the eye. The future chief minister was too flustered to react.
The Majlis supremo Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as Salaar, was a brilliant speaker. Ridiculing claims of poverty eradication, he said ‘ ‘garibi hataana chodo. Hame purani garibi loutaiye. Bas, wohi badi shukar.’ Over time, humour exited, bad blood set in.
The complexion of the legislature and the lifestyle of its members also saw significant transformation. In the past, simplicity was the hallmark. A good number of MLAs arrived in RTC specials, autos or black-yellow cabs. A few like the great Sundarayya were said to come by bicycle. Masala Veeranna would come by foot, escorted by gun-toting padayatriks. As recently as the late 1990s, a Communist member from Khammam district, I think Konja Bujji, had listed household utensils as his only assets while making mandatory declaration to the Speaker.
Contrast this with the present scenario. The RTC specials are generally occupied by security guards or personal staff while their masters travel in the likes of swank Mercedes, Audis, Jaguars, Innovas and Land Rovers.
Dasu Kesava Rao is a seasoned journalist who has worked, among several newspapers, with The Hindu and served as its Bureau Chief in Hyderabad.