If there was a moment that defined the shameful fiasco that the Kerala Assembly witnessed on 13 March, it was the Speakerās chair being thrown from the dais into the Well of the Assembly.
The chair fell clumsily on the floor, upside down, and it remained there forĀ a while.
Around the upstaged Speakerās chair scuffled, shouted and ran amuck Opposition MLAs ā both men and women ā jostling, bullying and biting, in their futile effort to stop a crestfallen yet nonchalant KM Mani, the beleaguered finance minister, facing charges of bribery, from presenting the Budget.
The CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) had thrown the hat in the ring saying that come what may, Mani would not be allowed to table the Budget. The ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) duly picked up the challenge and said none other than Mani would present the Budget.
The stage was set for a political tussle ā rather an ego clash ā which should have been avoided by all means to save the dignity of the House and whatever remaining blushes of our limping democracy.
The buildup to the protest wasĀ quite similar to the one the stateĀ capital had witnessed a couple of years
ago when the LDF supporters fromĀ across the state gathered around theĀ secretariat in a strike that they said would go on until Chief Minister Oommen Chandy resigned over the solar scam. The atmosphere around the administrative block, then, was thick with tension as thousands of red-clad party supporters sat in front of the main block, clapped and sang songs of revolution. But nothing happened and on the second day the protest mysteriously lost its momentum and disheartened supporters returned home. Chandy has remained the chief minister, cocking a political snook at his detractors, weathering many minor to sweeping storms.
Now, it was the turn of another hard-nosed leader, Mani ā perhaps in theĀ twilight of his long political career ā trying to stand his ground even when the soil under his feet is fast crumbling. The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau had registered a case against Mani inĀ December last year in connection with the allegations levelled by Kerala State Bar Hotel Ownerās Association working president Biju Ramesh that Mani had accepted bribes from bar owners to renew liquor licences.
Mani, who stayed overnight in the Assembly complex with his UDFĀ colleagues, entered the House through the backdoor while the LDF MLAs were busy blocking the front entrance to keep the Speaker and the minister at bay.
Moments before Mani entered the House, there were scuffles between the LDFĀ members and the watch-and-ward staff. A few of the MLAs ran to the Speakerās dais and threw his chair into the Well of the Assembly before dismantling the computer and other electronic gadgets on his table.
Even former ministers and senior leaders like MA Baby and Thomas Isaac were in the forefront, pushing the security personnel out of the Hall. Legislator L Sivankutty stood on a chair shouting in protest before he suffered a mild concussion and was carried out of the Assembly on a stretcher. Women legislators were also in the forefront of the protest, often ending up in jostling with UDFĀ members. Nine Opposition MLAs were reportedly injured in the scuffle.
Once Mani was in the Hall, the Speaker from his chamber asked the minister to present the Budget. Mani, fitted with a wireless mike, spoke for six minutes to loud applause from the UDFĀ members, who soon distributed laddoos to mark a moral victory over the Opposition.
Mani later met reporters to brief them on his Budget.