When Karnataka Saw Lawmakers’ Sit-In Like The US House Of Representatives

The Karnataka VIdhan Soudha (Rajesh Vadlamani/Wikimedia Commons)
  • -Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives are staging a sit-in demanding strict laws on guns
    -Karnataka legislature had also witnessed similar kind of sit-in over mining scam issue in 2010

The Congress party in Karnataka, which is in total disarray today, presented a united face almost six years back and did exactly what Democratic lawmakers are doing in the US House since Wednesday, 22 June. But the purpose of the sit-ins were different. The legislators’ sit-in in the Karnataka assembly was to demand a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into illegal mining in the state. The US sit-in is about the gun culture that has claimed hundreds of lives.

About 30 members of the United States House of Representatives, belonging to the Democratic Party, are staging a sit-in since Wednesday, demanding action on gun-control. They are led by John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement.

Lawmakers grouped in the well of the chamber, some sat in chairs in the front row while many members deposited themselves on the floor of the House.

“No bill, no break,” this OPB report quotes them as chanting. The House Democrats are demanding a vote on two bills before the scheduled break of the House on Sunday: one that bars anyone on the no-fly list from buying a firearm and another that broadens background checks for firearm purchases.

“We have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence — tiny little children, babies, students and teachers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, friends and neighbors — and what has this body done?” Lewis asked, and continued, “Mr. Speaker, nothing. Not one thing.”

Lewis’ colleagues in the Senate were demanding much the same thing last week and had held the floor for nearly 15 hours. Although they eventually succeeded in getting a vote, all four gun control measures failed.

There is no official live video feed because the cameras in the House are turned off once the chamber goes into recess. However, some representatives have been streaming the speeches from the floor. The official broadcaster C-Span has been airing video from Facebook and Periscope.

In similar parallels, in second week of July of 2010, most of the 74 Congress legislators and some MLAs of the Janata Dal (S) staged a sit-in and stayed overnight in the wood-panelled assembly hall of Karnataka Vidhan Sabha, in full glare of television cameras and media. Similar protests were held in the Legislative Council hall too.

It was the season of mining scam. We journalists had field day and night, with politicians trying to make themselves comfortable on assembly benches and giving us quotes after quotes for the next day’s report in the papers. After much jostling, we were asked to vacate the Press Gallery but some us stayed back in the lobby area along with MLAs, who had sought the comforts of the sofas. Photographers had the rare privilege of shooting legislators in their unguarded moments.

The security staff at the assembly had a tough time in bringing order as both legislators and the media claim special privileges. After the overnight bonhomie, the morning after greeted us with stinking toilets. The sit-in had its share of controversies because political gain was the goal of the parties. The then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa accused the protesters of lowering the dignity of the house by eating non-vegetarian food in the hall. Congress leaders denied they had dinner in the House. “We ate in the lobby, not inside the house,” said Siddaramiah, who was then Leader of Opposition.

Inspired by their own near Gandhian agitation, the Congress party took out a long padyatra to Bellary, the centre of mining scam and the hometown of Reddy brothers (Janardhan and Karunakar). It is a different matter that Congress came to power in Karnataka because of Yeddyurappa’s betrayal of BJP, and not because in this mining agitation they found some magic formula of unity and political purpose. In the US the issue is of social tragedy versus individual liberty. With the cause being led by Civil Rights activist Lewis, who had participated in the famous 1963 march of Martin Luther King Jr. to Washington, there is a glimmer of hope.

Image credits: Rajesh Vadlamani/Wikimedia Commons

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