Passage of Telangana: How Cong, BJP sold democracy for votes

On its last day of session, the 15th Lok Sabha created history in many ways.

The custodians of the “temple of democracy” have told the nation that lawmaking on a subject as serious as the bifurcation of  Andhra Pradesh that sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha, is nothing more than a joke of an authoritarian regime, where those representing the will of the people of that region were either thrown out of the House, or not given even a few seconds to put their dissent on record.

To ensure that the outside world did not watch the farcical proceedings and see for themselves the manner in which the voices of the minority would be muzzled, Lok Sabha TV, which acts under the direct command and control of Lok Sabha secretariat, blacked out the telecast.

Protests in Seemandhra: AFP

Protests in Seemandhra: AFP

A late evening statement issued by the Lok Sabha secretariat is most interesting. It read as follows:

"The proceedings of the Lok Sabha could not be telecast live by Lok Sabha Television due to technical problems when the House assembled at 15-00 hrs on 18 February, 2014. The CEO LSTV is probing into it. It is unfortunate that people were unable to watch the live telecast of the passage of this bill which was done democratically.”

The Lok Sabha secretariat want people at large to believe that not letting MPs speak, blacking out live telecast, marshals all around, closed doors, refusal to hear voices of dissent, not letting any division or vote on amendments as is prescribed in the rule book and not allowing any debate on merits of the bill is 'democratic'. That the bulldozing of the Telangana bill through a determined push by the government whose credibility quotient was at its lowest in its last days in office, was 'democratic'.

India of 2014 does not wait for an official release to make an opinion. The powers that be, however, were correct in their assessment that a repeat telecast of what had transpired in the house would have been hugely embarrassing for the ruling Congress because of the manner in which it forced its decision.

The Congress’s design behind this last minute push after consciously delaying it for the last 10 years was understandable. But it was majoritarianism of the worst kind where the main opposition party BJP considered it self incumbent to support the ruling party, so as to be in the reckoning for votes and some seats in the new Telangana state, even if the manner in which the bill was being passed was in complete disregard of parliamentary practices.

The passage of the bill took place amid an emergency like situation inside Parliament and what can only be described as a war like situation outside, with areas around Parliament House converted into a garrison town. The custodians of Parliament and law enforcement agencies feared its own people and were thus completely out of bounds.

What did the BJP achieve by supporting passage of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill in this highly questionable manner? Not even their most articulate leaders have been able to explain.

Lower down the order, several leaders and workers are questioning the wisdom of their leadership in so blindly supporting the Congress’s blatant political push to secure some seats in the region where they otherwise faced a complete rout. That too when their Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi kept shouting at the top of his voice that country needed a “Congress Mukt Bharat”. Modi had cited the ongoing conflict in Seemandhra and Telengana as yet another manifestation of Congress’s divide and rule politics.

But BJP leaders in New Delhi had other ideas about Congress. The party simply joined the ruling party in the chorus.

Interestingly, only a day ago, finance minister P Chidambaram, the Congress party’s most articulate voice, while presenting the interim budget had said: “Democracy acknowledges diversity, respects dissent, encourages debate, and decides through a government of elected representatives. Neither populism nor majoritarianism nor individualism is an alternative way of governance.”

He had said this to target Modi, but ended being an ironic description of the Congress style of functioning. The BJP obviously had neither not taken an offence to Chidambaram’s words nor had appreciated the virtues of what he had said.

But the day’s pearl of wisdom came from the man who piloted the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.

After thanking UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for fulfilling her 2004 promise to create Telangana, he said he found nothing unusual in the manner in which this bill was passed. He justified it by saying “Aisi cheez hoti rehti hai (these things keep on happening) and he cited his 40 years of experience in politics to suggest that it was alright for the Lok Sabha to legislate in this fashion.

A statement that is all the more telling when you note that that Shinde is also the Leader of the House in the Lok Sabha.

Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj’s statement (one of two other persons who got a chance to speak in the din) in the House is no less interesting:

“I would also like to say that this Bill has got a legal lacuna. This Bill, in violation of constitutional provisions, is giving certain powers to the Governor which could only be given after making necessary amendments to the Constitution. Our party had made it clear to the Government that even if they brought in a Constitution Amendment Bill in place of an ordinary Bill, our party would still support it and would ensure that the Constitution Amendment Bill is passed but a Bill with legal lacuna should not be brought….Our party will not only support the Bill but will also vote in favour of this Bill as this is a question of our credibility….The BJP will support it and will also ensure that the Bill is passed.”

The question is why she and her party supported a bill, which she acknowledges is constitutionally flawed and as several others pointed out could be struck down by the Apex Court.

In the end it all boiled down to votes and who could have how much share in the resultant in 17 seats that were going to be created in the new state, and who could lure the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) – the Congress or the BJP.

As it was, the BJP didn’t have much at stake in terms of numbers in the Seemandhra region.

The Congress leadership is hoping that they will be able to merge with the TRS. Party leaders from Telangana are boasting that they will win all 17 parliamentary seats from the new state and also form the new government. The state will go to the polls simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections.

In 2009, P Chidambaram who was then union Home Minister, announced that the UPA was starting the process of creating Telangana, but the Congress party and UPA government sat on the issue for a full five years for the simple reason that a mid course decision could otherwise have jeopardised continuance of both the governments – central and the state.

With election schedules set to be announced in the next week or so, these numbers no longer matter.

Andhra Pradesh had given the Congress party maximum numbers of MPs both in UPA1 and in UPA2. But Jaganmohan Reddy’s rising popularity in Andhra has forced Congress to review its Telangana card. Now Congress will be decimated in Seeamndhra but could gain thanks to good numbers in Telangana. Its real politik gambit may well pay off.

Today the Rajya Sabha will go through Telangana motion, perhaps in the same way as Lok Sabha went a day ago. It will all happen around the time Seemandhra observes a total bandh on a call given by Jaganmohan Reddy.

The heavy police presence in and around Parliament House reminds visitors of the immediate aftermath of 13 December 2001, when Parliament was attacked by enemies originating from foreign soil. This time its glorious democratic traditions are under attack from inside.

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