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Telangana born in the dark: Blacking out democracy

DC | Ramaswamy Mohan | February 19, 2014, 16.02 pm IST

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s response to criticism over the blackout of proceedings when the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill was being passed is bound to be met with scepticism.

The word of a person in high office who is supposed to be a guardian of democracy is not to be distrusted, if indeed the Speaker was unaware that a technical glitch had forced telecast to be stopped. However, when the debate was going on about such an important Bill that has wide national ramifications, the least the Speaker's secretariat could have done was to inform her about the suspension of telecast.

The merest suspicion is enough to destroy faith in the non-partisan role of the Speaker.

The blackout was, naturally enough, the topic of discussion even more than the passage of the Bill. To say in this day and age that a technical glitch led to the debate being blacked out is to stretch the credibility of a vital national establishment like Parliament. It does not augur well for democracy if a Bill, however controversial and divisive, is to be sneaked in like this in a manner that has led to so much suspicion.

Assent to Telangana was more or less a given since the Congress-led UPA was determined to put the new state in place by dividing Andhra Pradesh before the general elections. With the BJP lending a helping hand to the ruling alliance, the Bill was bound to pass through the lower House on its way to the upper House and then to the President for his formal assent.

It was the Speaker’s responsibility to ensure that the pictures of the House proceedings were being relayed to the nation, particularly since it is considered a virtual life-and-death battle in Andhra Pradesh that has housed widely divergent opinions on the division of the state. The House has been in turmoil for quite some time now with such unseemly incidents like the use of pepper spray by a rebel Congress MP, L. Rajagopal, and a knife being carried into the sanctum of democracy.

Given that the passage of the Bill to split up a big state so many decades after the linguistic reorganisation was bound to bristle with difficulties, Parliament officials should have been far more alert about presenting the full picture of the proceedings to the nation. The blackout represents a failure of the democratic instincts of the ruling dispensation. Parallels were readily drawn to the dark days of Emergency. While there is no reason to believe we are going back 40 years, the least the Speaker can do is to institute a thorough probe into the failure of television at a vital juncture and fix the responsibility for this dark deed.

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