A season of wrongs

Throughout the Telangana drama in Parliament, the Congress allowed electoral calculations to trump values and national interest.

The rot has gone deeper. The passage of the Telengana Bill amidst the most painful and shameful scenes will long remain an infamous chapter in India’s proud parliamentary history. Pepper spray was used, microphones were broken and brandished, the television coverage was blacked out (whether by a “technical” or “tactical” glitch), the presiding officers were barracked and all but assaulted, the secretary general of Rajya Sabha was manhandled, the prime minister was not allowed to speak, papers were snatched and torn, the well of both Houses was occupied by screaming disrupters holding aloft placards and a cabinet minister opposed his own government. It was Congress versus Congress. Debate was foiled, a division was refused in view of total disorder. Hooliganism prevailed. A dreadful precedent was set.

The Telengana Bill was passed, with its Constitutionality in question. A pyrrhic victory! Bitterness will not easily be erased. Jubilation in Telengana is matched by fears in Seemandhra despite economic sops and promise of a new capital. Meanwhile, Hyderabad will remain the twin capital for a decade, with special powers vested in the governor, a muddled solution that spells unrest and bickering.

Throughout the sordid drama, the Congress allowed electoral calculations to trump principles, values and the national interest. Other parties too have played dirty, witness the disruptive role of the Trinamool Congress by insisting on a division instead of a voice vote. The presiding officer rightly refused to buy more trouble and declared the Bill passed. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee, who has thrown due process to the winds in her state, has termed this act “worse than the Emergency”.

MPs as mobsters

The pepper spray hero, having shut down the Lok Sabha and then blandly “apologised”, was unbelievably invited by a TV channel to air his views in a panel discussion. Infamy was thus rewarded by free publicity. The “Honourable Member” who wrestled with the RajyaSabha SG, offered some kind of apology and was instantly forgiven. Everything goes. Emboldened by the ruckus, a J&K MLA beat up a marshal while being led out of the House for misconduct. In the UP Assembly, two RLD legislators took off their kurtas to display their unlovely torsos, to the encouragement of a senior legislator. These same “Honourable” mobsters will no doubt cheerfully collect their daily allowance! 

The Parliamentary Research Service has this to say: The extended winter session of parliament had 12 sittings. The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha lost 79and 73 per cent of the scheduled time to disruptions, respectively. Both Houses together were productive for only 24 per cent of the total time. Question Hour functioned for 11 per cent of its scheduled time in the Lok Sabha, with only eight out of 220 listed questions answered. No Questions were orally answered at all in the Rajya Sabha.

In a parallel drama, the Supreme Court’s commutation of the death sentence imposed on three leading Rajiv Gandhi killers to life imprisonment on account of “inordinate delay” in disposing of their mercy petitions, was pounced upon by Jayalalitha, the Tamil Nadu CM, to order their release within three days if the Centre did not do so. Though she claimed inherent legal powers to do, despite Central advice to the contrary, she was essentially seeking to fan ugly Tamil chauvinism for electoral gain with this vulgar display of one-upmanship before her rivals got into the act. The Supreme Court has stayed her order.

Release Tejpal

And finally, is it not time for Tarun Tejpal to be granted bail afte rover 85 days in judicial custody with felons in Goa. The extraordinary interest taken in this matter by the Goa CM Manohar Parrikar, while being totally unmindful of a series of other rape case in his state before and after the Tehelka episode, is striking. The BJP has its knife into Tejpal and the party has done its best to destroy him for Tehelka’s brilliant exposures of its skeletons in the cupboard. There is no question that Tejpal must face due process and condign punishment if found guilty.

The charge sheet indicts him under the sweeping new rape law, and associated crimes under the IPC, on the basis of CCTV footage in the Goa hotel lift. The incidents, as graphically recounted by the woman reporter, took place on two consecutive evenings over a span of 130 and 45 seconds respectively. The lurid description of that footage, widely broadcast, constitutes the essence of the charge but was only given to Tejpal and his counsel by the court on their insistence that hearsay does not constitute evidence. Having seen the footage thereafter, Tejpal trashed the charge sheet as spurious and politically motivated as the alleged scenes described do not figure in it. If true, as Tejpal’s counsels aver, then the charge rests on fabricated material that the Goa police will be called upon to explain when the hearings commence.

The other part of the charge rests on Tejpal’s written “confession” about misreading the situation and apologising for his misconduct. But this is what was sought by the lady in question in her complaint to Shoma Chaudhury, the then managing editor, in order to seek closure by means of an internal settlement rather than a through a trial court. Indeed, some language was crafted by her in terms that she considered satisfactory. Unfortunately, that letter of apology, written on her terms and duly delivered to her, did not bring closure. Instead, it was followed by instant disclosure by persons unknown, leading to the publicity, outrage and (political) vendetta that followed.

Tejpal now deserves to be released on bail. It is for the courts to pronounce on the merits on the basis of a fair and open trial. Meanwhile, the media should not sensationalise allegations as “facts” nor allow itself to be cowed down by brute political pressure.

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