The way the Telangana Bill was introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha is an outcome of the unholy ganging up of the government and the principal opposition. It was against all norms of parliamentary democracy.
Visitors’ galleries were cleared, live telecast of the proceedings was interrupted, and only two members spoke - one from the ruling party and the other, the Leader of the Opposition - in addition to the home minister. There was no discussion on a Bill of far reaching consequences. Their speeches concluded in just 23 minutes and about 33 amendments proposed by the government were rushed through in under an hour. Amendments moved by the AIMIM and TMC members were summarily dismissed.
Since the time the Congress Party moved on the Telangana issue, it was in an indecent hurry and resorted to dark secrecy. Here is a quick blow-by-blow account of the ugly manner in which the AP Reorganisation Bill was forced down the throats of the Telugu people.
The Congress Working Committee in July 2013, without even five minutes of deliberations, reversed the resolution it passed in 2002 for constituting a second States Reorganisation Commission. The UPA coordination committee rubber stamped its acceptance in less than two minutes. The government’s resolution to divide the state was placed in the Union Cabinet meeting as a table item, meaning no papers were circulated to the ministers in advance.
A Group of Ministers (GOM) was constituted. The GOM did not step on to the soil of Andhra Pradesh. It decided only to entertain e-mails from the civil society to express its opinions. The draft Bill prepared by the GoM was placed in the Union Cabinet meeting again as a table item without circulating it to the members of the Cabinet even a minute before they arrived for the meeting. The draft Bill was approved by the Cabinet without even a semblance of discussion. It was then dispatched to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. A special paramilitary aircraft carried it.
The AP Legislature was given very little time to deliberate on it. The resolution passed by both Houses of the state legislature against the move to divide the state and sent to the President went unheeded. The chief minister and several ministers of the state expressed complete disapproval of the way the Centre was riding roughshod over the state. In fact, the chief minster himself staged a protest demonstration in Delhi to press the point.
The Union government tried to introduce the Bill in Rajya Sabha. The Deputy Chairman had to remind the government that a Bill with financial implications cannot be taken up by the Upper House in the first instance. The government was both clueless and nonchalant about the business rules of Parliament. The ruling party expelled its own members of Parliament. It could not restrain its Union ministers from protesting and going into the well. There were ugly scenes and a member brought shame to our temple of democracy by using pepper spray to scuttle the proceedings of the House.
And then the Bill was introduced amid din in the Lower House. It was passed.
To divide a sate is a momentous decision. It is an irreversible decision. Division of Andhra Pradesh, especially, is likely to have far reaching consequences for the Indian polity. It marks the departure from the linguistic organisation of the political map of India. In addition, people from two of the three regions of the state strongly feel that they are short changed. The mother state is left high and dry and now has to look for a capital, a High Court, and a whole lot of educational, R&D, and industrial infrastructure. There is bitterness. The common people came out on to the streets and agitated for over one hundred days against the move to divide the state. The government in Delhi and the principal opposition were blind and deaf to the protests. Ironically, the fact that the principal opposition party has no representation from the state in the Parliament has not deterred it from deciding the fate of the people there.
Should a decision of such magnitude be taken in such a hurry, and in such an undemocratic fashion? Should not the government and the responsible political parties that sat down to hive off a part of the state not engage with the people and listen to them and persuade them? Why has the federal spirit given a go by? And why do the political/civil society not pulling up the Union government for this arrogance towards a state and its people?
Today these questions are raised by millions of Telugus for whom division of the state is a sad episode. But the manner in which it is done has hurt them deeply.
If this unholy process is not interrogated forcefully a day may not be far when any state in the Indian Union could become prey to a few insanely cynical political parties that could gang up for their electoral gains and put it on the chopping block.
(Dr Parakala Prabhakar is a Hyderabad-based political analyst. He heads RightFOLIO, a market research firm)