x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A Congress legislator named L Rajagopal unleashed his pepper spray in protest when the government tabled a bill that will divide his home state of Andhra Pradesh into two new states named Telangana and Seemandhra.

A demonstrator demanding a separate state of Telangana is detained by Indian policemen outside the parliament building in New Delhi on Thursday as angry MPs also came to blows. Sajjad Hussain / AFP
A demonstrator demanding a separate state of Telangana is detained by Indian policemen outside the parliament building in New Delhi on Thursday as angry MPs also came to blows. Sajjad Hussain / AFP

NEW DELHI // India’s parliament descended into chaos yesterday when an MP let off a can of pepper spray to protest against a bill to create a new state.

Parliamentarians came streaming out of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s legislature, coughing and with watering eyes. Four of them were taken to hospital by ambulances.

The incident was met with universal condemnation from other politicians and legislators.

“The circumstances and incidents which took place in the house are a big blot on our parliamentary democracy,” Kamal Nath, India’s minister for parliamentary affairs, said. “I feel ashamed that such an incident has taken place.”

A legislator named L Rajagopal unleashed his pepper spray in protest when the government tabled a bill that will divide his home state of Andhra Pradesh into two new states named Telangana and Seemandhra.

Mr Rajagopal and five other MPs were recently expelled from the ruling Congress party for opposing the government’s proposal to divide Andhra

pradesh. The bill was a concession to a long-standing demand by political parties in Telangana who agitated for a separate state, claiming that they were poorly represented in Andhra Pradesh.

But legislators from Seemandhra, such as Mr Rajagopal, worry that Telangana will leach away much of the state’s wealth, including Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh and a hub of economic activity.

Although Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party have been in favour of dividing Andhra Pradesh, opponents of the bill have stalled proceedings since this session of legislative business started on February 5.

Mr Rajagopal’s act came as the Lok Sabha was struggling through yet another day full of protest and shouting. Another member of parliament allegedly brandished a knife, although he claimed later that he had only yanked the microphone out of the desk of a Lok Sabha official.

Mr Rajagopal and other members were physically restrained by the Lok Sabha’s security staff. The MP and five other members of parliament had been recently expelled from the ruling Congress party for opposing the government’s bill, which will split Andhra Pradesh into the states of Telangana and Seemandhra.

Ever since this session of legislative business started on February 5, members of parliament in favour of keeping Andhra Pradesh whole have been stalling business, shouting slogans and refusing debate.

After the anarchy turned into violence yesterday, 18 Lok Sabha members were suspended by the house’s speaker, Meira Kumar.

Members of parliament are not usually searched before entering the legislative chambers, which enabled Mr Rajagopal to sneak his canister of pepper spray into the chamber.

Before the start of parliamentary business yesterday, Mr Rajagopal had dropped hints about his plan.

“The government won’t succeed in introducing the bill,” he told television cameras. “If they do ... wait and see what we do.”

According to the laws of parliament, the Delhi Police can register a criminal case against Mr Rajagopal only if the Lok Sabha speaker requests it.

Somnath Chatterjee, a former speaker of the Lok Sabha, and a man who often had to struggle with chaos within the house, said: “I feel sorry that this happened in a country like ours. There are no words to condemn this. This is illegal, totally unacceptable.”

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticised Mr Rajagopal but also the government’s handling of the Telangana bill.

“The government has to set its house in order,” Sushma Swaraj, leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha, said. The Telangana bill had not been introduced according to established procedure, Ms Swaraj claimed. The papers had not been tabled before noon, as protocol demanded, and the Telangana bill had not been listed in the day’s roster of business.

ssubramanian@thnational.ae