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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Murder of Democracy

Legend has it that Bombay was given away as dowry for a Portuguese princess when she married an English prince in 1661. Thus was Bombay or at least a part of the original seven islands that comprised the city was transferred to the English. Those were colonial days during which the Portuguese, the French and the English were vying with each other to establish empires in the East.

But, would a democracy in the first decade of the twenty first century carve out a new state as a birthday gift? It would seem to be so! Haven’t the Indians willy-nilly brought back a type of colonial rule about sixty years after establishing a republic? Isn’t it ironic that they did so, especially because the republic was established after a fight with a colonial power for about sixty years?      

Things have begun to go wrong since P. Chidambaram made the fateful announcement that ‘the process to carve out India’s 29th state would soon begin’ on the chilly midnight of December 9, 2009. The issue had been contentious and saw see-saw battles depending on which politician was out of work, for forty years till it was renewed afresh in 2001. The demand for creating the Telangana state was only partly conceded by the Congress party just before the 2004 election when it agreed to set up a new ‘states reorganization commission’. It was a political ploy to trump the Telugu Desam. The party did nothing to keep its promise of even setting up a new ‘states reorganization commission’ for the next five years.

Chidambaram’s announcement on the chilly December midnight caught everyone by surprise. If it buoyed the spirits of the protagonists of the new state, the events that followed the announcement sent shivers down the spines of its antagonists. They too did not contend with the amount of public anger that surfaced in the thirteen Seema-Andhra districts. Some political analysts saw that there was more than meets the eye in Sonia’s ‘birthday gift’ that Chidambaram meted out. On the face of it, it was to arouse grateful feelings in the minds of the people of the new state for her forever. As a politician from a neighbouring southern state – one which competes with Andhra Pradesh for resources and in development – Chidambaram might have had more in his mind.

As things stand today, Andhra Pradesh shares the fourth spot with Bengal in the number of members it sends to parliament (after Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra) and is ahead of the other three southern states. After the division, Chidambaram’s state, Tamil Nadu, with thirty nine members packs more punch and power in the parliament. As a columnist in The Hindu opined, the group of ministers (GoM) constituted to chart a course for the division might have had the same ulterior motives to ensure it as they are from the southern states and Maharashtra which compete with Andhra Pradesh for resources and in development. They never set foot on the soil of the state nor did they deliberate much. The length of all their meetings could be measured in minutes, not even hours, let alone days! They did their job much as Cyril Radcliffe did some sixty years before, in 1946-47, chopping states to create India and Pakistan, drawing their lines on a map! The GoM did its job with appalling perfunctoriness. The entire sordid drama scripted from above and enacted by the servile GoM appears to have been done with a single objective: contriving electoral arithmetic to somehow bring back the Congress party to power and anoint the party’s Crown Prince as the King Emperor!

The principal opposition party has expressed its willingness to go along in the division of the state. It too might have had its cynical electoral calculations. The moot question is why was the Congress party in such an unseemly hurry to ramrod its way through parliament? Could it not have allayed at least some of the fears that the antagonists of the division harbour in their minds? The British drew lines in the sand (or on maps) to create several states when they abdicated their empire triggering conflicts worldwide, conflicts which are not resolved till today.

The blame for the ugly scenes that the Lok Sabha saw last Wednesday – described by the Speaker as a blot on our democracy - must fully lay with the Congress party. It was quite obvious that it was playing to a script that in the end murdered democracy in the nation’s vaunted legislative body. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath allegedly arranged about a hundred MPs who have nothing to do with Andhra Pradesh to block the protesters. Would any democratically minded government resort to such a nefarious game of fixing parliamentary proceedings? The government could have brought all stakeholders on to a common forum and fecilitated a healthy debate that would have settled the issue. But it didn’t! Instead, it reduced parliamentary proceedings to an ugly charade. 

The presiding officer has an onerous responsibility now to restore at least a part of the dignity that the parliament shed, by instituting an impartial enquiry, to identify the culprits who reduced proceedings of the nation’s highest legislative body to a gangland brawl, and punish them. Speakers (or presiding officers) of legislative bodies in evolved democracies renounce allegiance to the parties to which they belong, on election to the great office. They never take sides. One hopes India as a ‘vibrant democracy’ – as it is often described - will not find itself wanting in such high values. Fortunately the job of the Speaker or any committee she constitutes is made simpler by modern technology. The proceedings of the house are reportedly monitored by twelve movie cameras. All that is needed to be done is to review their footage – impartially ­- and make the report public. That alone is the test of a mature democracy. Will India stand it?   

2 comments:

  1. It is no longer about. Telangana..It's about India and our democracy...
    They have converted Lok. Sabha into Ashok Sabha.
    With every passing day,congress is destroying every possible institution worth it's name.
    And yes,we Indians never came out of our colonial mind set,hence present state of affairs

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    Replies
    1. Chowlaji, did you by any chance mean 'Shok' sabha and by force of habit prefixed the word with the letter 'A'?

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