February 13, 2014

Is this how Parliament deserves to be treated?

It was a few minutes after noon. There was commotion in the Rajya Sabha and I had walked across to the last row of Central Hall (the hall which both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members share during a break), where the Trinamool MPs customarily sit. We were chatting when there was a hullabaloo. A Lok Sabha MP rushed out, rubbing his eyes and shouting, “Spray, spray… it’s gas…” I couldn’t stop him to ask questions but soon there was another MP, and then a third and then a whole rush. It was crazy. I hadn’t seen such a scene in my 32 months in Parliament.

Finally I spotted my party colleague Sudip Bandyopadhyay and asked him what the matter was. He told me a Congress MP had sprayed something in the Lok Sabha and sent everyone into panic. A few minutes later I met another party colleague, Saugata Roy, who had a coughing fit due to the spray.

It was completely unprecedented, senior members exclaimed, and had all happened as the government tried to introduce the Telangana Bill in the House. About 15 minutes later, I had coffee with my friend Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress, in Central Hall. “Did they actually introduce the Bill?” Jagan asked me. “They are claiming they did,” I said. He shook his head: “It’s madness. How could they introduce it?… It’s like the Nazis… ”

Don’t take that last comparison literally. Jagan was merely expressing his frustration – and the frustration of so many of us in the Opposition – at the Congress’ bloody-minded conduct and supreme stubbornness. This is the final session of Parliament before the general election. There is no time or political capital for the government to attempt dramatic legislation. A lame-duck regime doesn’t have the credibility to do so.

At the all-party meeting before the session, the Trinamool Congress had urged Parliament pass the Railway Budget and the Vote-on-Account and then conclude business. After that let matters move to the people, we had said.

The Congress had other plans. The Telangana Bill wasn’t listed for today. It was there in the Supplementary List, distributed at 2.00 pm. However, two hours before that, at noon, the Bill was surreptitiously introduced amid a din and a protest and a civil war between what I call the Congress (T) and the Congress (S): the Congress (Telangana) and the Congress (Seemandhra).

The Congress leadership was prepared. Muscular party MPs – including Raj Babbar and Mohammad Azharuddin – were positioned to guard the Speaker’s podium and prevent Bill papers from being snatched. They had formed a protective barrier. Is this how legislation is introduced? Is this how a state should be divided? Is this how Parliament deserves to be treated?

We can keep asking the questions. The Congress will never bother to answer. It believes in that old adage: Never apologise, never explain. Sombre thought on a sombre day.

Derek O’Brien
MP and Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha, Trinamool Congress