The many moods of politicians in the Legislative Assembly

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Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin speaks in the State Legislative Assembly in Chennai.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin speaks in the State Legislative Assembly in Chennai.
| Photo Credit: ANI

Even though more than 12 years have passed since I stepped inside the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly for the first time, I still enjoy covering the proceedings of the House. For journalists, the Assembly is among the resourceful places to visit for work for many reasons. It is among the few places where reporters can observe leaders from different political parties at the same time. It is in the Assembly where political leaders, who are accustomed to being greeted and praised, are forced to deal with criticism from other parties in the presence of their own party persons. It is also in the Assembly where we are witness to the oratory skills of leaders. Though politicians are often associated with public speaking, and display this skill especially during election campaigns, only a few of them master the art. There are fewer politicians who can deliver a harangue and keep the attention of the House. But nearly all of them are sincere when they raise the issues of the people. They never hesitate to plead with the Speaker for a few more minutes to talk about the issues in their constituencies.

Journalists can learn a lot from following these debates — how various welfare programmes reach the ground, the challenges in the implementing these programmes, why a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, and why a section of the people oppose what is generally considered progressive. For instance, I learned that a village panchayat did not want to be included in a neighbouring municipal corporation and get urban civic amenities because some of its residents wanted to remain eligible for the 100 days rural employment programme. An electric substation could not be set up in a locality for several years because none of the residents wanted the risk of such a substation in their neighbourhood. There are technical grounds, too, which do not allow for infrastructure. A narrow road to a temple on top of a hill could not be laid because the temple was inside a reserved forest. Electricity could reach one part of a rural area but not another. Railway tracks passed through the second area, and so the permission of the Railways was required. A certain number of cattle is needed in a town/village for establishing a veterinary hospital.

Given the nature of issues discussed, the House is often perceived as a serious, formal space. This is incorrect. In Tamil Nadu, following the death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in 2016, the tension between the legislators of the two Dravidian majors reduced significantly. Despite the formal set up and the rules of the House, we get to see politicians in various moods — they crack jokes, share snacks, make friends, get offended, lose patience, laugh out loud, show off, tease each other and even sing. I was also amused that they plead with the Minister concerned for tickets to matches during the Indian Premier League.

The House is also particular about issues such as punctuality and diction. The day commences at 10 a.m. Let alone unparliamentary language, the fact that the word ‘lies’ has been replaced with the words ‘contrary to the truth’ shows how the House is mindful of what enters the Assembly records for the future generations to see.

Legislators talk to each other irrespective of their political ideologies. Their accents may vary and their ideologies may differ, but they fall in line with resolutions on Tamil Nadu’s share in inter-State river disputes, the welfare of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka, or the Union government’s decisions affecting the State. There is a celebratory air when a resolution is adopted unanimously in the House. The full-throated ‘Aam’ (Yes) of the legislators during a voice vote while adopting a resolution sometimes reverberates outside the Assembly Hall. That one word shows how the MLAs of Tamil Nadu speak out in one voice whenever the interests of the State are at stake.

dennis.j@thehindu.co.in

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