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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Politics Of Separation: The Pain, Pepper Powder, Knives And Telangana!



The Congress led UPA-2 approved the division of the Southern State of Andhra Pradesh into the long fought-after Telangana and the consequent Seemandhra after initiating the process over the last few months. As the draft Telangana Bill took shape in practically geographic terms the state Assembly of Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh rejected the Bill. Supporters and opposition groups emerged within the same political party and the fight for-and-against shifted to the capital as the last session of the 15th Indian Parliament began on 5th of February, 2014. The Union Cabinet approved the final Telangana Draft Bill on 7th February clearing the way for its presentation in Parliament. It had been Telangana all the way then leading to early adjournments of both the houses every day—only with grudging concessions given to present the interim Railway Budget and the Vote-on-Account General Budget 2014-15. On 12th February the interim Railway Budget was presented in Lok Sabha, the lower house, with the Railway Minister only able to read out the first and last parts of the statement. But then, the all important Telangana Bill had to be presented to entertain some chance of passing it in this last session slated to end on 21st February. 

Thursday, the 13th of February, 2014. A black day for Indian Parliamentary Democracy. All norms of parliamentary behavior, decorum and rules were razed to dust in this what we call a wonderfully rule-breaking country. Following continuous disruption of Parliament over the days on the Telangana issue some Congress Members of Parliament (MP) were expelled from the party. On that fateful day all these MPs managed to enter and therefore fierce groups of supporters and opponents were created within. The supporting group escorted the Home Minister forming a protective ring around him for introducing the Bill. The Honorable minister did not carry any papers fearing that these would be snatched away by the opponents. As he verbally started introducing the Telangana Bill in Lok Sabha all hell broke loose.

The opposing MPs, apart from marching into the well of the house that they did every day, started snatching microphones or wires, tearing up papers and indulging in some fisticuffs with the protective members. Suddenly one prominent MP opposed to Telangana broke glasses on the tables and whipped out a canister from his pocket. Before anybody realized what was happening he began spraying pepper powder all around. All present including the ministers and the Speaker were soon seen in fits of uncontrollable coughing trying to run out of the house.
In the melee one MP was believed to have brandished a knife too. Security force personnel entered and took away the violent MPs. Many of the members got ill holding their throats and chests, and at least four of them were taken away to the nearest hospital in the ambulance which was kept ready outside in anticipation of trouble. However, no security arrangements or frisking of MPs were in place in advance. In fact, a fierce debate on the necessity of frisking VIP MPs broke out. Most unpleasantly enough, this black day hardly fails to remind one of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. This attack is even murkier, because it has been perpetrated by ‘privileged’ members from within. More than 16 MPs were suspended from the rest of the session.

Soon after the Lok Sabha resumed one opposing MP got a heart attack while shouting his heart out and had to be admitted in ICU. Now the main opposition parties refused to acknowledge that the Bill was introduced as they opined it was not proper. Amidst the continuing din both houses got adjourned till Monday that is 17th February when the Vote-on-Account was somewhat peacefully passed through. But then the all-important Telangana Bill had to introduced and passed.

The Telangana Bill was finally introduced in somewhat a proper manner on Tuesday, the 18th of February, 2014. This time security arrangement was immaculate. Marshals were present in the doorways frisking all members and all the suspended members were not allowed to enter. The Home Minister introduced the Bill and a debate on that was attempted with frequent disruptions till 3 in the afternoon. As Lok Sabha resumed at 3 pm the live telecast of the proceedings were suspended--another unprecedented move in a democracy (Lok Sabha Television describes it as a technical snag and its CEO has ordered a probe), and a vote on the Bill was taken up. Finally, the Telangana Bill got passed in the lower house on a voice vote with the main opposition BJP deciding to support for apparent political reasons—similar reasons for which the ruling coalition wanted to ensure the separation.

Pain and anguish expressed by the opposing Congress and regional leaders of Andhra Pradesh. Calls for protests and closures for the days to come. And, there were mass celebrations in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh, and in Telangana region. Ecstatic expressions for achieving the dream of a separate state after long, fighting and painful years. The new state is to share Hyderabad as the common capital for ten years.

Today, on Wednesday the 19th of February, the Telengana Bill is set to be introduced and passed in Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament. If it gets passed today it would become a law after getting the Presidential nod. Formation of separate states within India has been a complex and nagging issue over the decades. Now with the formation of Telangana more demands for many such proposed separate states are bound to get louder along with the politics associated with such separation. Expression of pain and ecstasy would continue too. How low or abysmal level would this process push democratic traditions to is the big question.
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