NPR logo

Brawls, Sit-Ins: Politics As Usual In India

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129076094/129076110" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Brawls, Sit-Ins: Politics As Usual In India

Asia

Brawls, Sit-Ins: Politics As Usual In India

Brawls, Sit-Ins: Politics As Usual In India

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129076094/129076110" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Opposition lawmakers in India routinely stage strikes and sit-ins in state assemblies and even in the national parliament. The protests sometimes degenerate into fisticuffs. Last week, an opposition protest in the northeastern state of Bihar devolved into a ruckus that grabbed international attention.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The world's largest democracy is home to some of the world's most pugnacious politicians. Lawmakers in India routinely stage strikes and sit-ins in state assemblies. Sometimes they do that in the national parliament. Protests occasionally turn into fistfights. And then there's the story of the protest, the fistfight and the flowerpot. It happened in the northeastern state of Bihar. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.

Ms. JYOTI KUMAR: (Yelling in foreign language).

COREY FLINTOFF: You may have seen the photograph that was carried by international wire services: a middle-aged woman in a sari, her glasses askew, howling and swinging a potted plant like a club on the steps of the Bihar State Assembly hall.

Ms. JYOTI KUMAR: (Yelling in foreign language).

FLINTOFF: The woman with the plant is Jyoti Kumar, a member of the state assembly from the Congress Party, one of the main opposition parties in Bihar. She and 66 other opposition members had just been forcibly ejected from the assembly chambers after they staged a sit-in and disrupted the session by yelling slogans.

At some point a sandal and a microphone were thrown at ruling party officials and a fistfights broke out on floor.

Mrs. Kumar said her rampage among the flower pots was nothing more than self-defense against the police who were allegedly manhandling her.

Ms. JYOTI KUMAR: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Mrs. Kumar and other opposition members insist that the disruption is their only way to call attention to what they say is the ruling party's cover-up of a financial scandal. The opposition is demanding the resignations of top officials in the state government. The ruling party says the opposition is using unfounded allegations to try to discredit the government before assembly elections this fall.

Analyst Sanjay Kumar, who's not related to Assembly Member Kumar, says the high emotion on both sides is more a matter of theatrics than real outrage:

Mr. SANJAY KUMAR (Analyst): If you actually look at what happened during that protest, it was more staged-managed compared to what it may look like as a violent protest.

FLINTOFF: Kumar, a fellow at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, says that while the opposition party wants to raise the issue of financial irregularities, neither party really wants a substantive debate on the issue.

That, he says, is because the alleged irregularities took place over an eight-year period, during which each major party had some time in power. If the dirty laundry is really aired in public, Kumar says, both parties could be tainted, so the rumpus in the assembly is a convenient distraction for both sides.

The drama playing out in Bihar isn't that unusual for Indian politics.�In recent months, other state assemblies have seen protests, sit-ins, sleep-ins and various types of disorder.

Kumar says the politicians' tendency to dramatic gestures is a hold-over from India's struggle for independence, when Mahatma Gandhi used strikes and non-violent protest to overthrow British rule.

Mr. KUMAR: See, times have changed.

FLINTOFF: He says India's nearly non-stop media coverage of politicians has helped turn non-violent protests into a stage for disruptive displays. And even though times may have changed, Kumar says, Indian voters haven't shown much inclination to punish the drama kings and queens of Indian politics by voting them out of office.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New Delhi.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.