What transpired in the last session of parliament during UPA2.0 is a grim reminder of the fact that our democracy is yet to even move from its teenage despite it being 50 years old. It would not be unfair to call the events that happened in last few days of the last session as a street fight. We saw some MPs literally standing guard of PM, HM, and other leaders who were on the committee framing the Andhra Pradesh State Re-organization Bill 2013.
The result is now well known and reaction from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh regions is not really surprising. Nobody should be surprised by the aftermath. However, individual reactions of Telangana people (I observed mostly on twitter) were really surprising. As a matter of fact, individually, there isn’t going to be much that they gain. But that is contentious and we will move to the point of this post.
The way in which State re-orgnization happened
We had a very strange method adopted in both the houses to pass the bill. Few parties had a consensus on the issue. What JD(U) and TMC did was more or less a fake show of walk out easing the way for INC. This clearly was INC’s game plan to handle the scenarios in which BJP flipped its stance. Had BJP done that, INC would have been hurt badly. The ruling party’s MPs and MLAs were completely divided reminding us of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya’s evaluation of Congress Party – “If there can be a magic box which contains a cobra and a mangoose living together, it is Congress!”.
Both sides of the divide were scheming and plotting against each other. Even more surprising was the fact that even a regional party like TDP was totally divided house. Most people may not like it, but if there was a party of consequence that stood united, it was BJP.
Facts of the case
Most of my friends and compatriots from Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions were totally annoyed by BJP. Their reactions are mere emotional reactions but not well reasoned thoughts. Even if there was a reasoning behind their unhappiness, most of them quote only facts that suite their conclusions. Here are the full facts of the whole event:
- BJP has always favored creation of Telangana purely on the basis of ideology.
- BJP couldn’t create Telangana because of TDP and the fact that people of AP voted overwhelmingly in favor of TDP in 1999 meant that popular opinion was against creation of Telangana.
- In 2014 election people of AP voted overwhelmingly in favor of INC steered by YSR, which meant that popular opinion was in favor of creation of Telangana.
- 2009 AP election results reinforced and reiterated this through again an overwhelming mandate from people of AP in favor of INC. Remember that YSR used creation of Telangana as a poll plank – both in 2004 and 2009.
- There was not even one occasion when BJP publicly positioned itself against creation of Telangana.
- INC on the other hand adopted a hide and seek approach to the whole issue. There were numerous occasions in which INC – both at state and nation level – made statements both in favor and not in favor of creation of Telangana.
- INC waited for 9 years and 9 months to introduce the bill which they promised. BJP on the other hand advised INC to place the bill on multiple occasions.
- INC didn’t take its own MPs and MLAs from Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema into confidence before, during or after drafting the bill.
- In the end, thanks to infinitesimally short memory of Indian public, INC tried to position the bill in such a way that any move against creation of Telangana by BJP would been seen as not just cheating but as treachery
These are facts of the case.
Significance of what BJP did
There were several comments from people of Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema suggesting that they were betrayed by BJP. The fact of the matter is they were betrayed by Congress and they in fact asked for it by choosing Congress – twice and that too with overwhelming majorities.
Sushma Swaraj did in fact take a very wrong decision to not stress for amendments. BJP corrected that mistake in Rajya Sabha. What has been done by BJP in Rajya Sabha is very important and most of the media houses – print and electronic – will not highlight this.
BJP got an assurance from the government (not UPA, but government) i.e., treasury benches on assurances for the state of Andhra Pradesh after Telangana is carved out. This is significant. Given that it was treasury that gave these assurances and not UPA, whoever forms the next government cannot simply shrug these assurances off.
Though many of those blaming BJP are literate, they seem totally uneducated in terms of what entails a recorded statement from treasury benches inside the parliament. Like with the recent comments from similar groups of uneducated literates about gay marriages, they have no understanding of how our constitution and systems built on it work. Sad thing is that it is impossible to reason with them, asking them to keep their emotions aside.
Moreover, had BJP opposed the bill as most Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema people would have wanted, they would have handed over an issue for INC to attack BJP during 2014. It would have been suicidal and it would have hardly stopped the tumultuous time that people of Andhra Pradesh have been going through. BJP did act wisely but one has to see beyond emotion and properly place facts in perspective to see it. That also doesn’t mean BJP made all the right moves. It didn’t. Sushma Swaraj’s statements during and after the dreadful LS session show that they erred.
Should it have happened this way?
The question that deems good thought and debate is if the process was just. Creation of Telangana was bound to happen – given how carefully and strategically KCR positioned TRS in the whole bargain. The general mood in Telangana was difficult to contain especially after KCR started a fake fast and had to make it a serious fast due to severe public pressure. Nobody will contend that the way in which it was done was nothing short of callous and bereft of any civility.
So the question therefore is – and no media house will pose it for reasons well known – if there should be any constitutional safeguards to prevent this. In fact, none of the political parties including BJP will stir a national debate in this direction. The reason is quite elementary – there is no electoral incentive in doing that.
A bill of this kind – which changes geographic details of the country – entails a lot of work from the ruling party.
Should we have safeguards in the constitution to prevent ruling parties from proposing bills of this nature in the last 6 months of its normal term – normal being its natural end and not due to a no-confidence motion?
How to define “bills of this nature”?
The definition of “bills of this nature” can be arrived at only through a proper nation-wide debate between common people, experts in constitution, law and public administration. Unfortunately, our country being a country that it is, such a debate will never take place. In fact, anybody who asks for such a debate would be branded “anti-Ambedkar”. For the sake of posterity and in case such a debate does occur, “Bill of this nature” should be defined as follows:
- Any bill that proposes Constitutional Amendments
- Any bill that imposes emergency – internal or external
- Any bill that introduces new reservations in legislature, Union and/or State public services commissions
- Any bill that entails reorganization of states
Needless to say, the list cannot be called exhaustive. The reasoning to provide safeguards against bills of these types is quite simply based on what we have experienced as a nation so far – for instance the emergency. It is in the best interest of our future that the public pressure grows in the direction of doing the right thing – providing safeguards by construct to prevent governments from doing something wrong.
Instead, public pressure as of today (like with most other problems) is not in favor of prevention but cure i.e., which political party to blame for the grief that was caused. In case of the aftermath of passage of Andhra Pradesh State Re-organization Bill 2013 through upper and lower houses, the easy target happens to be BJP and Narendra Modi.
Arun Shourie would have watched all that happened in LS and RS with a quiet smile on his face. He would have told the person next to him – “see, I told you!”. To quote him from his book “The Parliamentary System” –
A host of changes are necessary, and these days you don’t have to sit through a session of Parliament or a state legislature to realize how necessary they are. Just glancing at the proceedings relayed on television will provide all the evidence you need.
Any Indian who cares for this country, after seeing the events in the last session of parliament during UPA 2.0, would have felt the same and understood the true meaning of what Arun Shourie wrote.