India’s normally disruptive parliament was widely derided on Friday as having hit a new low after Indian lawmakers fought, broke equipment and pepper-sprayed the chamber over a bill to create a new state.
India’s media condemned the lawmakers’ behavior as “revolting” and a “disgrace to democracy” after mayhem erupted on Thursday over the bill to carve a new state out of existing Andhra Pradesh.
“Pepper spray in House leaves Indian democracy in tears” screamed the Times of India front-page headline on Friday, while the Hindustan Times called the chaos “a complete breakdown of parliamentary conduct.”
“Even for a country with a long and unedifying history of parliamentary pandemonium, nothing can be as shameful and disgraceful as the use of pepper spray by a member on his peers to disrupt proceedings,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
The unrest broke out after the Indian Congress-led government introduced the contentious bill to create Telangana State into the lower house of parliament.
Small fights and scuffles ensued between lawmakers opposed to the bill and those trying to stop the chaos and restore calm.
In the confusion, a glass table was reportedly smashed and one MP was accused of brandishing a knife, a claim he later denied.
MPs tried to tear out the speaker’s microphone, while others ripped up official papers, before one lawmaker unleashed a can of pepper spray, later claiming that he had come under attack from colleagues.
TV footage showed MPs coughing and covering their mouths and heading for the exit, as others clambered into ambulances waiting outside.
About 17 MPs were suspended as Indian Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath called for the strongest possible action against those responsible.
The disruptions come as the government attempts to pass major bills in the last session of a parliament, which was set even before Thursday’s chaos to go down as the least productive in history.
The current parliament, which was elected in 2009, has passed a record low of 165 bills in its five-year-term, with bad-tempered outbursts and protests forcing frequent adjournments.
As many as 126 bills are pending in parliament, which will wind up at the end of next week ahead of national elections in coming months.
The Indian Cabinet last week approved the creation of Telangana from southeastern Andhra Pradesh, after a decades-long and sometimes violent campaign.
Mainly tribal groups have demanded Telangana be carved out of an impoverished and drought-prone part of Andhra Pradesh, which supporters say has long been neglected by successive Indian governments.
Wealthier regions of Andhra Pradesh, home to IT giants including Google and Microsoft, have strongly opposed the split because they say it would create economic upheaval.
Observers say the Indian Congress moved on Telangana in hopes of winning much-needed votes in the region at the elections.