What a coincidence! As soon as the Telangana Bill was taken up for consideration on February 18 around 3 pm, live telecast of the House proceedings on Lok Sabha Television (LSTV) stopped, perhaps for the first time since the channel’s inception in 2006.
If Rajiv Mishra, the CEO of the channel is to be believed, failure to receivesignalsfrom the nine automatic cameras in Lok Sabha resulted in the blackout.
LSTV, which broadcasts the live coverage of all the proceedings, initially displayed ‘House Adjourned’ though the proceedings were going on inside the House. Subsequently, the display changed to ‘Live from Lok Sabha shortly’. But it never happened and the Bill was passed and the House was adjourned after 90 minutes of proceedings.
Though the move apparently had the backing of even the main Opposition party, the suspension drew widespread condemnation from several quarters which slammed it as “undemocratic”.
The tactical decision, now being projected as a technical glitch, was apparently taken in view of the hooliganism witnessed in the House on the Telangana issue on February 13 which saw Members breaking the Speaker’s mike and even using pepper spray, forcing several MPs to seek emergency medical aid.
One of the lofty objectives behind the launch of exclusive live television channels for both the Houses was to take parliamentary democracy to the doorsteps of the people who could themselves watch the performance of the Members and the discussions and debates they participate in. However, of late, some political parties and Parliamentarians motivated by narrow interests of retaining/wooing their electorate have been behaving most irresponsibly throwing tantrums in the House. The incidents of February 13 marked the nadir in this respect.
The move to suspend the telecast was undoubtedly made keeping in view the fragile law and order situation in the Seemandhra region.
However, critics are also wondering whether the decision was prompted only by such lofty motives. The manner in which such a significant legislation was bulldozed without any meaningful discussion whatsoever was indeed a sad day for our democracy.
Secondly, the decision somewhere reflects a growing tendency to suppress information. It was not long back that attempts were made to muzzle the social media, as it was being increasingly critical of the Government. At the National Integration Council meeting held to discuss the Muzaffarnagar riots, very little was spoken about the dubious role of the State Government or that of individual politicians belonging to different parties. Right from the Prime Minister, everyone was targeting the social media for the riots as if all the villagers and semi-urban populace in the Western Uttar Pradesh town were connected 24X7 to the world wide web.
The newspaper review on the Breakfast Plus show of DD News has been in vogue for decades and many reputed journalists were invited daily in the morning to discuss on the major headlines of the day. But no sooner had a couple of journalists criticised the ruling party, the show itself was taken off the air.
And leave alone suggesting mandatory examination for future scribes, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari even shot off a warning letter to channel heads for daring to compare the Prime Minister’s annual Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort with the speech of a State Chief Minister, what if he is even Narendra Modi.
At the peak of the Gujjar agitation, the Government took media houses into confidence and urged them to desist from showing live the protests and the move did help in dousing the fire. Cooperation and not confrontation worked in this case.
There are occasions such as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks when the media would have rendered a better service to the nation, if it had exercised some restraint and not provided live feed to the terror master minds who made sitting ducks of our brave security personnel.
For a media which underwent the censorships and blackouts during the infamous Emergency, regulations cannot be the panacea. Self-restraint is the only option. But in the case of executive or legislature controlled media, such as Lok Sabha TV, the least they could do was to be honest rather than resort to amateur school kid excuses such as technical glitch exactly during the passage of the controversial Bill.
(The author is a Senior Journalist & Director, Indian Media Centre)
The great Indian parliamentary circus
Parliamentarians of late have made a circus of the august House, focussing more on trivialities than the core business of the House.
For past several days, Parliament has become merely a circus, except not nearly as fun. Last week’s pandemonium in the Parliament, which saw the ruling party MPs resort to unprecedented behaviour by physically attacking each other, was a disgrace to the country. Indeed, the events of February 13 must rank among the darkest days in the Parliament’s history. More so because the behaviour of our so-called honourable Members of the Parliament inside the House on the said day was deplorable. We have all witnessed how a Congress MP was busy engaged in detonating a can of pepper spray inside the House while another whipped out a weapon, later said to be a piece of microphone. And all these acts were in the name of thwarting the Telangana Bill.
One is really pained to see the Parliament, which is the sanctum sanctorum of our democracy, stalled session after session. Our MPs are turning Parliament into a forum of settling political scores, while common man is losing faith in democracy. Shouting, disrupting speeches, adjournments and walkouts every now and then have become a norm in both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha.
It needs no reiteration that the purpose of parliamentary democracy is to provide a forum for reasoned deliberation. It is the key arena where parties articulate their positions and engage in verbal debate. But aam admi who elects the Members of Parliament to look after his interests is aghast at the audacious manner in which these elected representatives are wrecking this plateform. The sad thing is that politicking has taken precedence over people’s welfare. It is welcome that Speaker Meira Kumar has suspended 16 MPs for the ruckus. She should also follow it up with changes in Parliament’s security protocols.
Indeed, there is not much difference between an outlaw using chilli powder to rob someone and an MP using the same weapon to disrupt and stall the House proceedings. After all, when the criminals are elected as our representatives, what more can we expect from them? Parliament has already witnessed the snatching of papers from the Speaker, tearing of Bills inside the House, breaking of microphones and damaging of furniture. Now it has degenerated into pepper spraying and brandishing a weapon. A day is not far off when we will witness bombs being exploded in the temple of democracy.
After all what has happened there is a strong case for all MPs to be subjected to thorough physical checks. We all bristle our feathers when our tall leaders are frisked in foreign countries as a security requirement prevailing in those countries. Wth the smuggling of such a repellant spray into the Parliament by none other than an MP, we have now lost the moral right to question foreign countries subjecting Indian citizens including our leaders to intensive security checks.
However, there is certainly a case for the parliamentarians to be mature and sensible enough to use the august forum to which they have been elected for debating the burning issues facing the nation. Disruption will defeat its very purpose. Also cross politicking should not prevail over aam aadmi’s welfare. Disagreement with the Government on any issue is now used as an excuse to stall the Parliament endlessly. While the Government is to blame for not consulting the Opposition to build a consensus, Opposition parties also seem to believe that it is their birth right to adopt obstructionist strategies if they don’t agree with the Government. The deplorable episode speaks volumes about the inability of the PM and the Speaker to control and maintain discipline in the house. The Speaker’s role particularly cannot be ignored. It was her non neutral behaviour that allowed the passage of business that suited the UPA politically.
It is an irony to call our parliamentarians honourable when they exhibit the worst signs of street behaviour. It will be fair to pinpoint those individuals who created the mayhem and give them the punishment they deserve.
Parliament must be used as a forum to develop the country and not to be treated like a circus.
(The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at: [email protected])