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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 8, February 15, 2014

Direct Assault on Democracy

Monday 17 February 2014

EDITORIAL

”My heart bleeds to see what is happening in the House. It is sad for democracy to see that such things are happening even after all appeals for calm.”

That was PM Manmohan Singh’s reaction after four Union Ministers belonging to the Congress from Seemandhra—K.S. Rao, D. Purandeswari, K. Suryaprakash Reddy and Chiranjeevi—rushed into the well of the Lok Sabha on February 12 to stage an unprecedented protest against the proposed bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh for setting up a separate State of Telangana. That incident, which forced Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge to lay on the table of the House his speech on the interim Railway Budget without reading it in full, provided a fresh manifestation of the weakening hold of the central party leadership over the regional Congress bodies thus bringing into focus the gradual waning of the authority of the Congress High Command in New Delhi.

But what happened the following day in the Lower House of Parliament was far worse and left all members, and the veteran MPs in particular, dumb-founded. The Times of India have a graphic description of the unforeseen events of February 13:

The difference between the street and Parliament blurred on Thursday as pepper spray, shards of glass, uprooted microphones and brawls turned Lok Sabha into a battlefield between supporters and rivals of Statehood for Telangana.

The vandalism saw four MPs being taken to hospital—three were later discharged—and resulted in the suspension of 16 MPs who will not be allowed to enter Lok Sabha when it meets on Monday. There were even reports of “watch and ward” staff of the House seizing a can of inflammable liquid from an unidentified MP.

Expelled Congress MP L. Rajagopal justified his use of pepper spray in “self-defence” while TDP member M. Venugopala Reddy denied reports that he had brandished a knife in the House. Whatever it was, Reddy’s behaviour was both menacing and threatening. But more than that what stood out was these MPs total lack of remorse over the happenings within the Lok Sabha.

These incidents compelled Speaker Meira Kumar to express her sense of revulsion at the MPs’ acts which had “shamed” the nation and tarnished its international image as the world’s largest demo-cracy These acts were doubtless a fallout of the highly influential Seemandhra MPs’ firm opinion that the bullying tactics and lobbying, which had worked in their favour since 1956 when they were able to scuttle the recommendation of the First (Fazal Ali) Commission on Reorganisation of States for Statehood to Telangana, would work to their advantage this time as well.

Experts and observers are of the considered view that unless punitive action is taken against the guilty MPs such acts cannot be prevented. And that is possible only if the presiding officer gives the necessary permission to initiate penal action. Isn’t it high time such permission is granted?

Regardless of whether or not such permission is available in future, the scenes in the Lok Sabha on February 13 have once more exposed the ugly face of our parliamentarians and the political class in general. As a consequence Parliament has suffered a grievous blow and democracy stands diminished. In no way can this direct assault on the temple of our parliamentary democracy be condoned.

Lately democracy has again come under siege from the forces of Hindutva. Penguin India, in a bid to placate these forces, went to the extent of withdrawing all copies of Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus, An Alternative History (which it had published), on reaching an out-of-court settlement with Dina Nath Batra, who petitioned the court to take the pubication off the bookshelves. If The Indian Express is to be believed, Batra is now in the middle of targeting On Hinduism by the same author. “It’s next on its hit-list.”

Arundhati Roy (whose books too were published by Penguin India) has aptly asked: “What are we to make of this? Must we now write only pro-Hindutva books?” These questions will assume much greater significance once the Hindutva elements are able to seize power at the Centre.

And democracy is threatend also due to the way in which AAP CM Arvind Kejriwal is being cornered by vested interests in politics enjoying full support of India Inc which is sensing danger on account of the anti-corporate measures taken by the AAP of late. His inability to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Delhi Assembly brings this out in bold relief. As we go to press, he is learnt to have finally resigned as the Delhi CM to the jubilation of the corporate-backed media totally divorced from the aspirations of the people at large.

The situation is turning from bad to worse. It cries out for a bold and effective public intervention in order to defend and protect our democratic traditions now under attack from diverse forces, hitherto dominating the Indian scene, that are unable to comprehend the onward march of the forces of history.

February 14 S.C.