Odisha Assembly on Friday witnessed dramatic scenes as an MLA of the Opposition BJP tried to end his life because of his “accumulated frustration over the unresolved problems of the state’s farmers”.
Alleging that the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government had failed to address the plight farmers are facing in selling their paddy, Deogarh MLA Subash Chandra Panigrahi picked up a bottle of hand sanitiser and attempted to consume its contents. He did so when food supply minister Ranendra Pratap Swain was delivering a speech during the state Assembly’s ongoing budget session.
Panigrahi’s action caused a stir in the Assembly. Parliamentary affairs minister Bikram Keshari Arukh and some other MLAs present there prevented Panigrahi from consuming the sanitiser, and snatched the bottle from his hand in time.
When journalists later met Panigrahi and asked him if his action was not tantamount to “setting a bad tradition” in the state legislature, he said, “No, it is not. That was the right thing to do. What does a people’s representative do if no one here listens? If the government does not listen, the ministers’ statements are not based on facts, and the Speaker’s rulings are not impartial, then what is the value of the legislature?” he asked.
“It’s not a crime to commit suicide in the current legislature. We have come here to serve the people. But nothing is being done for the people and they are protesting on the streets, putting bags of paddy on the streets, and no one is listening. Then they come back to the MLAs. Our fight is in the Legislative Assembly, but no one listens to us in the Assembly,” said Panigrahi.
He said his suicide attempt would not encourage the states’ farmers towards the action. “They will be happy that their paddy will now be purchased. I am not encouraging anyone to commit suicide,” he added.
“There are many ways to protest in a democracy. So what’s wrong in protesting this way (suicide attempt)?” Panigrahi asked.
The second phase of Odisha Assembly’s budget session started on a stormy note on Friday. Opposition members of the BJP and the Congress strongly protested the steps the government has taken so far in paddy procurement. The Speaker had to postpone the Assembly proceedings several times due to the tense situation.
“Such action (suicide attempt) by a legislator inside the Assembly does not portend well for the legislature and for democracy in general. People’s representatives have many ways to express their points of view and to force the government to address the people’s problems, but a suicide attempt is not an appropriate step at all,” said political analyst and senior journalist Akshaya Kumar Sahoo.
The BJP MLA Subash Panigrahi had warned the government last month that he would not hesitate to commit suicide if the farmers’ problems were not resolved soon.