The Assembly sessions – then and now

Assembly sessions are becoming livelier by the day. In the just-concluded budget sessions both the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh Assemblies vied with each other to breathing life into their proceedings.  From the press gallery you could see all the moods—the nava rasas, anger, compassion, humour, pity etc. This exuberance did not spare either the presiding officer or the Governor.

dasu kesava rao

Dasu Kesava Rao

Telugu Desam members in the Telangana Assembly earned suspension following ugly scenes during the Governor’s address to the joint session Andhra Pradesh Assembly saw some members from both the treasury and the opposition benches plumbing new depths of personal behaviour. A woman member showed she could put the male members in the shade.

The change from a dignified past was conspicuous. Gone were the times when debates were more meaningful and replete with substance. Protests were issue-based and rarely ego-driven.

As one who covered the Andhra Pradesh Assembly proceedings for 30 years, I happened to be a painful witness to the decline of the debate. The level of debates or the conduct of the members has come down. Personal abuse and acrimony have displaced wit and humour.

I tend to nostagically recall that golden period when such stalwarts as Putchalapally Sundarayya, Vavilala Gopalakrishnayya, Tenneti Viswanadham, CVK Rao, Gowthu Latchanna, Ch. Rajeswara Rao, V. Srikrishna, M. Omkar, A. Sreeramulu, N. Sreenivasulu Reddi, S. Jaipal Reddy, M. Venkaiah Naidu, J. Eswaribai, Salahuddin Owaisi, J. Vengala Rao, M. Chenna Reddy, T. Anjaiah, K. Rosaiah and NT Rama Rao sparkled Assembly debates..

Subtle humour, sarcasm and anguish were much in evidence. Some samples: Raja Sagi Suryanarayana Raju, scion of a royal family and Minister in Vengal Rao ministry, would come to the House dressed like a maharaja – expensive chains, ear studs, rings on almost all fingers, and turban.  The serious-looking Nallapureddi Sreenivasulu Reddy (NSR) would regale the House sometimes reminding the Minister that monarchy was dead and gone. People were the rulers now. Not satisfied with the royal trappings, he had two ‘Raju’s to his name. Is this fair,’ he would ask. Far from taking offence, the minister gave him back in his own coin, asking, ‘don’t you have two ‘Reddi’s tagged to your name?’ I was moved when the good-natured Raju broke down during a press meet recounting prickly barbs and innuendos by an MLA from his own district.

Then we had CVK Rao. The House was discussing family planning when Rao feigning innocence, asked ‘what is nirodh, sir?’ “Adi meeku ardham kaadu lendi, koorchondi”, the chair advised the bachelor member from Kakinada.

Venkaiah Naidu was as good a master of humour and alliteration as he is today. He once 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.

The House heard humour even during a condolence motion. A crazy mix-up caused a member from Medak district to offer his ‘heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family of the chief minister!’ It was a mix-up between the deceased member and the chief minister, who moved the resolution. The Chief Minister was in splits as were the other members.

It was question time in the Legislative Council. Chandrababu Naidu, newly inducted into the Cabinet, was answering questions relating to Cinematography. Children sitting in parent’s lap were eligible for free admission, he said. ‘What if an adult sits in the lap of another? Will it be two tickets or one?’ a woman member from Babu’s native Chittoor, asked. The future chief minister was so flustered he just could not react.

Somasekhar from Ananatapur surprised the House by showing up in wedding robes, dashing in straight from the marriage venue. Another member explained how MLA pesarattu derived its name.

Somasekhar from Ananatapur surprised the House by showing up in wedding robes, dashing in straight from the marriage venue. Another member explained how MLA pesarattu derived its name.

There were some serious moments too as when Masala Eranna from Alur, bordering Karnataka, begged the Speaker to ‘send us back to Bellary.’ He was annoyed at being persistently denied a chance to speak. He was probably the only MLA who came walking to the House.. His gunmen followed him by foot.

The Majlis supremo Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as salar, was a brilliant speaker. Ridiculing claims of poverty eradication, he said ‘garibi hataana chodo. Hame purani garibi loutaiye. Bas, wohi badi shukar.’ It was a deadly mix of anguish and sarcasm.

Over time, humour exited, bad blood set in. The Congress, which had ruled the State for nearly 30 years, could not digest loss of power to the Telugu Desam in 1983. Bad mouthing became the order of the day, with both players heartily participating in the game. There were occasions when torn copies of the Governor’s address were flung at his podium.

The complexion of the legislature and the lifestyles of its members also saw significant transformation. No more the old simplicity when several MLAs arrived in RTC specials, autos or black-yellow cabs. Some, like the great Sundarayya, came cycling.. As recently as the late 90s, 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.

Back to the present  The RTC specials are generally occupied by security guards or personal staff while their masters travel in the likes of swank Merks, Audis, Toyotas, Land Rovers, Dusters, Pajeros, Xylos, Scorpios etc. which fill every inch of parking space in the Assembly premises. One cannot miss prosperity.

Will those times come back?. As optimists, let us hope so. Till then keep smiling.

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