If the pepper spray incident in Parliament was one of the saddest days in the history of Indian democracy, then the day when the passage of Telangana Bill in the Lok Sabha was allegedly stopped from being broadcast live was probably one of worst.
The birth of India’s 29th state has seen unprecedented protests from both who are for and against the division of Andhra Pradesh. It has seen bandhs and uproar in Seemandhara region, and has also seen Congress MPs and MLAs openly defying the diktat of party high command and revolting against the formation of the new state. At the same time, the protests have seen Congress’ own chief minister crossing the party line and resigning over the issue of the bifurcation of the state of Andhra Pradesh.
And it has also witnessed an incident which led to large scale criticism from various quarters including political parties, journalists and the common man. The incident was this – The Lok Sabha Television was allegedly stopped from broadcasting the proceedings of the House by the government of the day when a vote was underway on the Telangana Bill.
The day the contentious bill was introduced in Parliament, scenes never seen before were played out live on television, wherein, papers were torn, mikes were uprooted, slogans were shouted, MPs were heckled and pepper was sprayed from a canister leading to the hospitalisation of few men. An anguished Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had said then that it was a ‘blot’ on the history of Parliament.
However, the same Meira Kumar is now being accused of giving orders to LSTV not to broadcast the proceedings live from 3 pm onwards on February 18, 2014, the day the Congress decided that it would bite the bullet and get the bill through. Though it is said that it is the Speaker who takes the decision regarding such things, one must add that if such a decision was indeed taken, then in all probability it was just not the Speaker’s decision alone. The top notch of the Congress Party must have been a party to it.
Whatever the truth may be, in a free and democratic country, no government has the right to block the people from witnessing legislations that will affect their lives. The people have a right to hear what their leaders are speaking and see how the elected representatives are behaving. And if the elected representatives are too ashamed of the way they behave then they must do something about it and not cut out those who have voted for them. This is simply against the ethos of free speech and expression and totally undemocratic.
Yes, journalists were present in the media gallery but millions of people in the country were bereft of the debate that took place or for that matter did not take place. If the MPs are fighting, shouting, throwing papers, going to the well of the House or spraying pepper, then so be it. Let the people be a witness to everything that is happening in the temple of democracy and then form their own opinion. Blocking the telecast is akin to killing the spirit of democracy, and some Opposition leaders even compared it to the days of the Emergency.
It is precisely for this reason that the Congress needs to be more careful, especially in an election year. The Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has been talking about their government bringing the RTI Act in rallies after rallies. However, what use is the RTI Act when you do pass an important bill but are too scared of showing your true face to the nation. The Telangana Bill was indeed passed but with hardly any debate, with just a voice vote and amidst din and pandemonium.
What has made the case curious is the fact that the Speaker said that a technical glitch prevented the proceedings from being telecast live, with the CEO of LSTV also saying a snag that occurred in room number 50 in Parliament House from where the channel gets live feed. LSTV displayed `House Adjourned` during that period. But in reality, the proceedings were going on inside the House. Later, the display changed to `Live from Lok Sabha shortly`, which never happened. A probe was ordered and it said in its report the next day that failure to receive signals from nine automatic cameras in Lok Sabha resulted in the blackout of Lok Sabha TV.
However, there were few takers of this line of argument. BJP leader and Leader of Opposition in the Lower House Sushma Swaraj took a dig at the statement and said that it was a ‘tactical glitch’. And TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi said that no one would believe the glitch argument and that nothing stopped the Speaker from adjourning the House till the time the matter was rectified. He said that he was the first one to bring to notice of the Speaker that the telecast was not happening. He also said that there was total commotion in the House.
These were the same emotions expressed by JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav who said that everyone was speaking at the same time and no one could hear anyone. And in a contradiction of sorts Congress leader and Union Minister Salman Khurshid hit back at Swaraj saying that she had agreed to Speaker`s decision to stop live telecast of Lok Sabha proceedings and that the BJP leader was party to it.
The truth needs to come out in the open and it needs to be told to the people. If not, then the cynicism that has developed in this country regarding the political class will only become stronger. Also, where will it all end? Hopefully, this does not set a precedent wherein in future the government of the day will block out the people from being a party to the events that are unfolding in Parliament just because they have failed in efficient floor management and just because they have an agenda in pushing through a bill by hook or by crook because it will help them electorally.
Also, if indeed there was a glitch then let the Speaker release the recordings of the 90 minutes of proceedings. LSTV CEO Rajiv Mishra has said that the audio feed of the proceedings during the snag period will be uploaded on Lok Sabha as well as LSTV websites. But what about the video?
A word about the BJP too. It supported the bill and helped the ruling party in getting it passed. Probably it supported the bill because it did not want to deal with the mess left by the Congress, as it is hopeful of forming the next government at the Centre. However, it needs to answer along with the Congress as to whether this the manner in which they wanted India’s new state to be born?