Bollywood actor Om Puri and Team Hazare member Kiran Bedi face privilege proceedings in Parliament for their “derogatory and defamatory” references to politicians during their speeches at Ramlila Maidan where Gandhian Anna Hazare was on fast.
Puri had hit out at MPs for being “anpadh (illiterate)” and said “sab neta chor hain (all leaders are thieves)” while Bedi had parodied politicians for “wearing masks”, pulling a scarf over her head. Bedi’s “ghoonghat act” drew a sharp warning from leaders like JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav during Saturday’s debate on Lokpal in Lok Sabha that MPs could hit back.
Lawyer and Hazare group member Prashant Bhushan could also be summoned for saying that bills are passed for a monetary consideration although no privilege notice has been submitted against him. Notices for breach of privilege against Puri and Bedi were submitted in both Houses on Monday.
The controversy saw Puri backtrack on Monday, saying he regretted his remarks. “The word ‘anpadh’ was in the wrong context…When you are emotionally charged sometimes words come out of your mouth and that happened to politicians (too),” He said his ‘sab neta chor hain’ remark was an obvious exaggeration.
Bedi, on the other hand, was combative and said she gave voice to the frustration of the common man as the government was “playing games with us”. She said, “I reiterate that the angst was not against any person. However, I am willing to undergo any punishment, even jail for the outcry of despair and anguish and for standing up for truth.”
If found guilty of breach of privilege they can face up to 15 days in jail.
After a restrained debate during which MPs by and large did not respond to the provocation offered by some civil society activists, politicians seem to be asserting themselves and if Bedi maintains her unapologetic stand, there could be a showdown.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “I salute the restraint of MPs (during the debate) who despite having an immunity of speech did not react to the vituperative and intemperate statements of certain persons who do not enjoy any immunity.”
In Rajya Sabha, independent MP Mohammed Adeeb and Samajwadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav moved privilege notices. They also said that Bhushan had told a news channel that “bills are passed in Parliament by taking bribe”. In Lok Sabha, notices were given by Congress’s P L Punia, Lalchand Kataria, Praveen Aron and Jagadambika Pal, SP’s Shailendra Kumar, and BSP’s Ramashankar Rajbhar. The Speaker said: “The matter is under my consideration.”
It is understood that the privileges committee will call Puri and Team Hazare members for a ‘clarification’. Although they can apologize to the committee, it is up to the panel whether to accept their regrets. There was cross-party support to the notices when the matter was raised in both Houses on Monday.
In Rajya Sabha, the matter was raised by SP’s Ramgopal Yadav in Zero Hour. Yadav said that the film actor had dubbed parliamentarians as “thieves” and called them “incompetent” while speaking from the dais on August 26.
Later, Adeeb said Bedi attacked MPs on three consecutive days from August 24. She had also ridiculed MPs, he said, adding, “This is contempt of Parliament.”
Deputy chairman of the Upper House K Rahman Khan told members that the privilege notices given by Ramgopal Yadav and Mohammed Adeeb were under consideration. Khan also assured the members that he would convey the sense of the House to the Chairman.
Taking strong objection to Bedi calling politicians “illiterate”, Yadav said such statements erode the dignity of Parliament. “More than 80% members in this House are graduates and those who are not educated are also more competent than many educated ones,” he said citing examples.
Echoing similar views, JD(U) member Shivanand Tewari reminded the civil rights activists including Bhushan saying that the person (Anna Hazare) whom they accepted as leader had been a truck driver. This only showed that the uneducated or less educated have more understanding than the educated, he added.
Taking a dig at some ministers without naming them, he said it were the educated ones who misled the government on handling of the Lokpal issue.
In a democracy, there are bound to be differences, and everyone has the right to express them with vigour and without fear. However, debates should never become abusive. If Om Puri and Kiran Bedi must be bound by this rule, so should our MPs. Or else, the political discourse will descend to a level where people will talk at each other but not listen to each other. And that’s the end of any healthy debate.