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Mainstream, VOL LII No 11, March 8, 2014

People who Shame the Country become Heroes at Home. What’s this Democracy Worth?

Monday 10 March 2014, by T J S George

Everyone was shocked by the recent crimina-lities in Parliament, but was anyone surprised? And does anyone believe that this is the last time such scenes of shame will be seen in the House? Our politics turned criminal when criminals turned politicians many moons ago. All parties were guilty in this. All parties conspired to protect criminal MPs.

They even tried to subvert the Supreme Court ruling that people in jail or police custody should be disqualified from contesting elections. When you sow the wind, what can you reap but the whirlwind?

Amorality flourished because the guilty were never punished. Eleven MPs were caught on camera in 2005 accepting bribes for asking questions in Parliament. They came from the BJP, the Congress, the Laloo Party and the Mayawati Party. In 2007 a BJP MP was arrested while using family passports to smuggle a woman and a boy to Canada. In this case at least an arrest took place because the crime was detected at the airport. Otherwise guilty MPs get away with a suspension or a warning. In last week’s case of criminal rioting in the well of the House, 16 MPs were suspended. For five days. Big deal.

If the latest mayhem proves anything, it is that the rights and wrongs of the Telangana issue are no longer relevant.

It is electoral politicking alone that matters. It was so from the time in 2009 when an imprudent Chidambaram injudiciously announced that the government was ready to start the process of forming a Telangana State. This was a bid to gain votes for the Congress at least in the Telangana region, having lost the rest of Andhra by antagonising the Rajasekhara Reddy Congress as well as the Telugu Desam. In the event, the Congress antagonised its own leaders in the State. Telangana partisans, too, were getting disillusioned because of the lack of any traction on Chidambaram’s promise. With the Chief Minister and several Congress MPs and MLAs choosing to oppose their own party and with Telangana leaders feeling let down, the Congress faced the prospect of becoming a zero-seat party in Andhra Pradesh.

Hence the desperate hurry with which the Bill was sought to be introduced in Parliament. Hence, also, the desperate tactics adopted by “united Andhra” protagonists to block the Bill.

The irony is that there was ample warning about the protagonists planning drastic action on the Bill-presentation day.

Intelligence agencies had actually predicted violence in the House. All that the authorities did was to provide the Watch and Ward with blankets and fire extinguishers to meet exigencies. The government’s floor managers arranged to send “physically strong” Congress MPs to the well of the House to tackle riotous Andhra MPs. Even Ministers were involved in the fighting that followed. In the end, as a tribute to this culture of criminalised democracy, victory belonged to the pepperman and the knifeman; the nation condemned them but they became heroes in their constituencies. Isn’t that what matters to the votes-at-any-price political class?

Indian democracy was critically wounded when Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency dictatorship in 1975. Some subsequent develop-ments gave rise to hopes of a miraculous recovery. But these quickly evaporated; it became clear that the very DNA of political culture had changed during the Indira years. Thus the acceptance of the dynasty idea in many parties. What we have now is the body of democracy, with the soul missing. The vile and the vicious become “elected representatives of the people”, betraying the people who elect them and defaming the country that sustains them. Our Parliament has become a national shame.

Note that the BJP squarely blames the Congress for all that happened. The Congress blames the BJP. No one calls for stern steps which alone are relevant at this point. Members who go to the well of the House must be suspended for the rest of the session. Those who use “self-defence” devices like pepper spray must be disqualified from contesting elections. And please stop VIP privileges to MPs in airports and airplanes even if Dishonourable Members spray the cabin with teargas.

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