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Parliament Intrusion Highlights Repression and Economic Desperation

Suhit K Sen |
But Parliament and the public must be content with airy dismissals of their concerns.
 Parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha during the Winter session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

Parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha during the Winter session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. Image Courtesy: PTI

The intrusion into the innermost sanctum of the new Parliament complex by two young men reaffirms something most of us have known for a while: the extant regime is not just sectarian and authoritarian but amateurish.

Even as vanity projects go, the Central Vista and the new Parliament building was always extraordinary, considering the finances being lavished on it and its no-stops construction through the pandemic. Also unsurprising was that the security arrangements should be so palpably suboptimal—an issue raised by many during the pell-mell process—that all it took was a small group of disaffected youths to penetrate Lok Sabha with, one must admit, considerable brio.

If the events of 13 December shone a powerful beam of light on the regimes ineptitude, subsequent events revealed the complete disregard for due processes and contempt for democratic institutions and norms that have come to characterise the regime. Regrettably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sets the tone for his colleagues in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the government with his grandstanding. Now we know: Modi hai to mumkin hai; if Modis in the picture, it must be doable.

Weve said this before and are saying it again: the Pragya Singh Thakurs, Giriraj Singhs and Ramesh Bidhuris are not part of a lunatic fringe. They are valued members of the BJP and Sangh Parivar mainstream who carry out the biddings of the leaders who set the stage with their unsubtle dog whistling. Rewards are on offer; witness the promotion to the Cabinet of Anurag Singh Thakur.

This context frames the response to the intrusion into the inner chamber of the Lok Sabha by two men who were, most fortunately, not intent on creating mayhem. Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah dont really care about public opinion because they know that behind them are a well-funded electoral juggernaut and the majoritarian stick that seems to do the trick when it matters. Thus, Modis stubborn refusal to go to Manipur when it was being ravaged by riots or his refusal to make a meaningful statement on the situation in Parliament.

Nobody was seriously expecting a statement from either once it became apparent that the crisis had blown over, especially since neither worthy was in the House when the pyrotechnics happened. Any statement would surely involve taking some responsibility, and, hey, did anyone in their right mind see that materialising on the distant horizon? 

As expected, we got a jejune statement from Speaker Om Birla, kind of putting his hand up; Shah kind of implied his culpability as well. But whichever way you slice it, the fact that the Speaker is in charge of House proceedings doesnt mean he is in charge of security or who busts in through the outer gates. The Union Home Minister is singularly responsible, and he isnt raising his hands, except to say, outside Parliament, that a mistake happened—in the passive voice, with an intransitive verb.

BJP leaders led by Shah have fixed responsibility on the Opposition. Sure. They are politicising the issue, as if miraculously, the security for the Parliament complex—bulldozed through against widespread opposition and without consultation—is not a political issue many times over.

The suspension of almost a third of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members for demanding the presence of Modi and Shah to make a statement and render themselves answerable is typical of the regime. It takes no account of the fact that for members of Parliament, this is a life-and-death issue. That the trespassers intended merely to register their protest against the dictatorial and incompetent functioning of the regime is, in a sense, incidental.

Meanwhile, of course, BJP Member of Parliament Pratap Simha expectedly gets a pass despite having given the passes used to breach Parliaments security, as has BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri despite his invective-laden verbal attack against another MP on the floor of the House. The pattern persists. Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra was expelled for sharing her password without being given adequate opportunities to defend herself, but Simha gets commiserations for doling out passes.

With the Winter Session ending on 22 December, it looks unlikely that any answers will be forthcoming. Both Parliament and the public will have to be content with airy dismissals of their concerns and questions.

The incident does raise an important question, though. What compelled regular citizens, going by the reports about their general situation, to stage a protest that was, first, purely symbolic since it wont result in deep introspection to solve the myriad problems they wanted to draw attention to. And second, it was a protest that will undoubtedly lead to a long prison term and most likely a permanently blighted future. Let us remember that these are still youthful people, not terrorists or criminals.

Clearly, there is a problem caused by a lack of opportunities for the educated, coupled with an increasingly constricted space to legitimately air grievances. In other words, we are living under an increasingly authoritarian regime acquiring all the hallmarks of a police state, which cannot provide avenues of advancement to the educated youth or the means of proper subsistence to a huge number of people.

Check the recently released United Nations report that says almost 74.1% of Indians—that works out to 104.3 crore people—cannot afford a healthy diet. Whatever the denial-prone regime might say about methodologies and data, it cannot repudiate that Modi announced the extension by five years of free rations to over 80 crore people during the recent Assembly election campaign.

This is likely to be an underestimate of hungry people given that the regime has refused to conduct the decennial census, now overdue two years. You dont have to be a member of Mensa International to figure out that its not being held because the regime thrives in post-truth situations that afford an infinite scope of plausible denial.

Thus, the people who got together to tear down the security apparatus, or whatever Keystone version passes for it, have highlighted the fundamental problem facing the nation: misgovernment of colossal proportions policed by jackboots to repress democratic protests of any kind.

Its a pity that matters have come to such a pass, but lets not pretend we hadnt seen it coming.

(The author is an independent journalist and writer. The views are personal.)

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