India is a complex country. Shashi Tharoor once said ,“Everything you can say about India, the opposite is also true”. We’re a country of contradictions and there is no denying that. The Telangana debate is certainly one of the best examples to illustrate that point. There have been passionate appeals from both sides and no matter what the final decision, protest from the other side is inevitable. Still, a bill was introduced in parliament, a move that was instantly met with extreme resistance. There was ruckus in the house with microphones being broken and pepper spray being used by some of the MPs who weren’t in support of the bill. For obvious reasons, they were suspended from the house. That episode, most people thought, was one of the lowest points of our parliamentary history. But what came after, was unanticipated and outright undemocratic.
The 18th of February 2014 will go down as the day when the lights were turned off on Indian democracy. And that is not an over reaction. Yes, the emergency wins that competition hands down. But this, takes an uneasy second place. With the bill on the separation of Andhra Pradesh tabled and a number of protesting MPs suspended, nobody had predicted smooth sailing of the bill in parliament. But the beauty of our democracy for many years prior to this, was in its ability to debate and discuss and present points of view so that everyone involved could make informed decisions. We’ve seen some lovely debates in parliament. We’ve seen the passage of historic legislations after such informed debates. We’ve seen the house break into uncontrollable bouts of laughter after an MP’s funny speech. We’ve seen the house work till very late in the night to pass some key legislations. We’ve also seen frequent disruptions of parliament. We’ve seen terrible behaviour from our MPs. We’ve seen them sleeping during debates. We’ve seen them make terrible speeches. We’ve seen them pass laws that not everybody agrees with. But we’ve seen all those things happen. For roughly a decade now, India has been witness to the proceedings in parliament, both good and bad. In the true spirit of transparent democracy, every single move of our elected representatives in parliament is telecast live for everyone to see. LokSabha TV does not garner the TRPs that Colours or MTV does.But the importance of the fact that every Indian can keep an eye on the proceedings of the temple of democracy cannot be understated. It is the right of every citizen to see for himself what is happening inside parliament, for it directly influences his life. Dear Somnath Chaterjee, thank you for recognising that right and televising the proceedings of the house.
Today, his successor as the speaker of the Lok sabha decided, in her wisdom, that it was best not to telecast the proceedings of the house, for reasons yet unknown. The bill on Telangana was passed, reportedly, amidst great din. Like I mentioned earlier, no matter what the decision on Telangana, that din was inevitable. What was absolutely shocking, was that the people of India weren’t allowed see what was happening. Censorship at its absolute worst. Ms Meira Kumar, all these years, came across as a gentle, polite speaker who did her best to keep the house in order. It would’ve been for history to judge if she had succeeded at that or not. After this episode though, that becomes irrelevant, for she’ll be known as the one who ordered the cameras to be turned off and effectively blinded democracy.
Undoubtedly, she has the right to do it under the law. But she shouldn’t have exercised that right. Not today. Not ever.
The people of an entire state was waiting to see their fates unfold in parliament. The people of an entire nation wanted to see who was shaming their country with cheap antics that undermined democracy. But thanks to a blatant subversion of that very democracy, they were all blindfolded. The last session of the 15th Lok sabha of India will be remembered forever. For all the wrong reasons.