Midnight grappling at the MCD House in Delhi

NEW DELHI: This must be the longest meeting of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, punctuated by tumultuous incidents involving combative councillors in a high state of ebullience. The futile attempt to elect the six members of the Standing Committee lasted 22 hours before the House adjourned until Friday at 9.45 a.m. on Thursday. The source of contention was the ubiquitous mobile phone.While BJP was adamant about banning mobile phones in the voting chamber, newly elected mayor Shelly Oberoi decided to allow councillors to tote their phones while voting. Though Oberoi later retracted her decision, 50 votes had already been cast, allowing the BJP to create a new front and demand fresh voting.The House was adjourned 15 times after convening on Wednesday at 11 a.m. The elections of the mayor and deputy mayor proceeded without incident, but around 6.30 p.m., when voting for the Standing Committee members began, chaos ensued. The adjournments were preceded by verbal scuffles that devolved into physical violence between council members. They were observed striking and pushing others, hurling bottles, and ultimately vandalizing House property.TimesViewContinual commotion and obstructionist tactics in the House are not only detrimental to democracy but also a misuse of public funds. They also set a negative example for others. This must end.When the House sat past normal hours, both AAP and BJP held press conferences past midnight, paradoxically in the room of the Civic Centre’s Standing Committee. AAP representatives Sanjay Singh, Saurabh Bharadwaj, and Atishi told the media at 1:15 a.m. that their councillors would remain in the chamber until the voting was complete. aBJP is attempting to avoid the elections. Instead of acknowledging their defeat, they are engaging in hooliganism, Bharadwaj explained. We will not be departing. We have just finished dinner and ordered breakfast for our councillors.aFifteen minutes later, Vijender Gupta of the BJP held a press conference demanding the adjournment of the House and accusing the mayor of vote manipulation. She claims there are insufficient voter papers. How can we permit such polls?The expectation that tempers would be calmed after the press conferences evaporated when the session resumed and the House recessed for an hour at 1:51 a.m., he said. When the hour had expired and the session had not resumed, BJP councillors demanded the mayor’s presence. After a brief consultation with AAP MLA Atishi, BJP councillor Shikha Rai was handed the microphone at 3:22am. Rai stated, aOnly 47 ballots have been cast. Therefore, we demand a new round of voting.a In response, Oberoi stated, aI do not see any legal justification for holding new elections. Voting will continue from where it left off. All council members should work together.aThe impasse worsened when members of the BJP entered the well chanting slogans. Oberoi requested the municipal secretary to begin the voting procedure and summon the next registrant on the list. When the official arrived, however, some councillors clambered on desks and began chanting slogans, compelling the mayor to adjourn the meeting for an hour at 3:50 a.m. At 4:03 a.m., AAP MLA Kuldeep Kumar was escorted out of the chamber by Delhi Police officers following a scuffle with the officers. While some AAP and BJP members continued to harangue, others began chanting and singing songs.When the House resumed at 5am and Oberoi called out the names of the councillors from ward 56 onwards to step forward and cast their ballots, BJP members reiterated their demand for a new vote. Three AAP councillors and one BJP councillor reached the dais, began battling, and threw away the ballot box. Some BJP councillors joined the melee and attempted to remove the podium. As the fighting intensified, the ballot box laid unguarded on the ground. It was eventually removed by municipal staff.When the House reconvened at 6:09am, dawn was just breaking. Oberoi requested the vote of the next council member. Rekha Gupta and Kamaljeet Sehrawat of the BJPa requested the municipal secretary to stop the proceeding. Gupta brought the podium to the ground and crushed the microphone on the table. AAP councillors surrounded Gupta and Sehrawat, and it took other councillors, Civil Defence volunteers, and marshals to calm everyone down before the 13th adjournment of the day. Some councillors slept on the back benches and, after a breakfast of buns and rusks, were prepared for a new fight when the House resumed at 8.24am. aAfter consulting attorneys, we have determined that cell phones are not prohibited during voting. Therefore, I entreat that the BJP not bring up the issue again,a declared Oberoi. However, it only took the BJP four minutes of renewed agitation for the meeting to be postponed again. At 8.42am, the mayor resumed calling out names for voting. At this juncture, BJP councillor Amit Nagpal approached the podium, poured water on the ballot list, and tore it up. The municipal personnel seized him and removed him. Finally, at 9.45am, a visibly enraged Oberoi adjourned the House until Friday.AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj alleged, aBJP is creating pandemonium in the House out of fear of losing the election for the Standing Committee. A criminal case should be filed against the BJP councillor who tore up the voter list.a In response, BJP members demanded that AAP councillors also be punished for their misconduct.

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