When Vice President, Venkaiah Naidu , who is also the Rajya Sabha Chairman, dissolved in tears on August 11, 2021 in response to the ruckus created by Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha the previous day, saying all sacredness of the House was destroyed that day and that he spent a sleepless night in anguish , it did seem to be a case of “ the lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

The shameless behavior that Mr Naidu was referring to alluded to Congress MP Pratap Singh Bajwa climbing on a table and hurling a file towards the chair, while some other Opposition MPs stood on their chairs and also in the well, shouting slogans.

The same evening, there was chaos again in the Rajya Sabha as Opposition members jostled with House marshals, while the government was trying to get the general insurance amendment bill passed. The protest resulted in considerable shoving and pushing, with the Opposition legislators later complaining of being manhandled by the marshals. NCP leader Sharad Pawar in fact tweeted saying that ‘outsiders’ had been brought into the House by the ruling party.

The government accused the Opposition of misbehaving with and assaulting the martials. The House was adjourned sine die, and seven Ministers of the central government held a press conference to lambast the opposition parties for the ‘murder of democracy.’

Murder of democracy? Public memory indeed appears to be very short because even as homilies were being offered on “murder of democracy,” not one commentator recalled what actually was a murder of democracy in Lucknow on October 21, 1997, when BJP’s Kalyan Singh was to seek a vote of confidence in the Uttar Pradesh assembly.

This was the phase in UP politics when occupying the chief minister’s post had been reduced to a farcical musical chairs game by the BJP and BSP. The assembly election of September 1996 had thrown up a hung assembly and the state had been under President’s Rule for almost a year and half when the BJP and BSP entered into a rotational coalition arrangement.

The agreement was that the BSP would lead the government for the first six months, with Mayawati as the chief minister, and then she would hand over power to Kalyan Singh of the BJP for the next six months.

The trouble began after Kalyan Singh took over in September 1997, after Mayawati’s six month term. His policies irked Mayawati and barely a month later, on October 19, 1997, she announced withdrawal of support.

Much mayhem followed with almost all major parties, barring the Samajwadi Party, breaking into splinters, in order to support Kalyan Singh. Governor Romesh Bhandari then ordered Kalyan Singh to prove his majority on the floor of the House on October 21, 1997, since he claimed to be having the support of a majority of MLAs. This claim was based on an exodus of 22 MLAs from the Congress party and 12 from the BSP, who extended support, giving Singh the required numbers.

Amid apprehensions of violence, since tempers were already frayed in Lucknow political circles, the UP assembly started the session at 12 o’clock on October 21. As soon as speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi occupied his chair and vande mataram was sung, Congress leader Pramod Tiwari rushed into the well of the House, shouting and gesticulating. He was protesting against the manner in which the breakaway faction of his party was given recognition by the Speaker.

He was immediately joined by some BSP members too, who were egged on by Mayawati, to protest. Amidst slogan shouting and aggressive gesticulation, somebody from the crowd of MLAs, flung a small mike towards the Speaker. And then all hell broke loose. Members from both sides, as if already mentally prepared, were using anything and everything as missiles to attack each other: mikes, mike handles, chairs, table tops, shoes and chappals were soon flying in all directions.

I was covering the assembly proceedings as an Economic Times correspondent, and watching the spectacle with horror from the media gallery which was just above the Opposition benches. I could see senior minister Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon being hit and bleeding. As they hurried out of the House, along with Kalyan Singh, a free for all ensued.

While initially the Opposition members seemed to be having the upper hand, later on BJP members, who were suitably aided by the House staff and policemen in plain clothes, were seen dominating, thrashing and brutally beating the opposition members, chasing them around, nailing them to the ground, showering them with blows.

One opposition MLA tried hiding under the bench but was caught by three BJP MLAs and beaten so badly that he almost fell unconscious. We from the media gallery had to shout loudly for him to be spared. Another SP MLA, who I later discovered was Shivpal Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s brother, was thoroughly beaten blue and black by three ruling party MLAs.

I especially remember BJP MLA Satyadev Singh, as one of the most aggressive ones. Tall and lanky, the Dhoti-kurta clad neta was quite a sight as he kept jumping all over and throwing anything that he could lay his hands on, chasing the opposition MLAs around and out of the House.

This free for all lasted about 20 minutes. When it ended, the House resembled a battlefield: desks and chairs broken, mikes uprooted, shoes and chappals strewn around, blood stains on the desks and tables. Not a single opposition member was now left in the House.

All this while, speaker Tripathi held his ground, shielded by a couple of House staff who held a desktop aloft to protect him from the flying missiles. After all the Opposition members had been beaten and chased out, all the doors were closed, and guards deployed to prevent anyone from entering.

Kalyan Singh had arrived again, accompanied by Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon. Mishra had a bandage on his head and Tandon had blood stains on his kurta. The House proceedings began once again. The confidence vote was sought and cast, and also meticulously noted in a register. The Opposition benches remained empty. Kalyan Singh was declared the winner with 222 votes in his favour, with 0 against him.

I did not see Kesri Nath Tripathi shed a tear for “murder of democracy” that day.