The suspense over the controversial Telangana bill continues as the BJP insists that it was not introduced in the Lok Sabha, which witnessed its stormiest proceedings ever. Anita Katyal reports
The suspense over the passage of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill was further prolonged with the LoK Sabha witnessing unprecedented ugly scenes on Thursday. Anti-Telangana MPs resorted to physical violence and the use of pepper spray to block the introduction of the statehood bill by Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
Sixteen protesting lawmakers were subsequently suspended by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar. According to the rulebook, the MPs will be suspended for five sittings or the rest of the Parliament session, whichever is less.
The suspended MPs included those from the Congress, Telugu Desam Party, YSR Congress and those who had been expelled from the Congress earlier this week.
While the United Progressive Alliance government believed that the Speaker’s action would restore peace in the House and pave the way for the passage of the statehood bill, it was confronted with a fresh hurdle when Bharatiya Janata Party leaders L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj argued that the bill was not formally introduced in the Lok Sabha as maintained by the government.
United Progressive Alliance sources told rediff.com that there were heated arguments in the Speaker’s chamber after the Lok Sabha was first adjourned in the afternoon with Advani and Swaraj insisting that due procedures had not been followed and that the bill could not be deemed to have been introduced. They were accompanied by YSR Congress chief Jagamnohan Reddy, who is opposing the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
Meira Kumar, however, overruled them, stating firmly that the home minister had indeed introduced the bill during the turmoil in the House.
Although the Speaker’s word on such matters is final, Advani and Swaraj’s objections could well lead to a confrontation between the principal opposition party and the ruling alliance when the bill comes up for debate, thereby derailing its passage.
The bill is expected to be listed for discussion and passage on Tuesday as the Lok Sabha will be taking up the vote-on-account on Monday. With Congress President Sonia Gandhi insisting that the bill be passed before the coming Lok Sabha elections even if it has to be pushed through a voice vote, UPA’s parliamentary managers are working overtime to ensure its passage. However, they are still skeptical about accomplishing this mission.
“It is difficult to predict if the bill will be passed or not. There is a fresh development every day … who could have expected that an MP would use pepper spray in the House. We just don’t know what will come up next,” a senior Congress minister told rediff.com.
An angry Swaraj later told mediapersons that the bill was not introduced as long as she was in the House. She also wanted to know why the bill had not been mentioned in the list of business.
"The ruckus started before the Speaker came; Congress MPs clashed and came to blows. And then something was sprayed... MPs started coughing. As long as I was in the House they had not even read a 'I' of introduction. I was in the house for a long time. I wanted to sit even after they used the spray, but marshals told me the gas can be harmful and I should leave. I don't know when the Speaker came and when the bill was introduced," the Leader of Opposition maintained.
Accusing the Congress of playing games because of upcoming general election, Swaraj said if the Congress really wants to suspend its MPs or MLAs, why has it not taken action against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar, who has defied the party leadership and other ministers who joined in the protests.
The BJP has officially declared that it is committed to the formation of Telangana and will support the bill provided there is order in Parliament and the bill made substantial provisions for the Seema-Andhra region. It had also said it would not support the suspension of anti-Telangana MPs.
The UPA, however, is convinced that the BJP’s public declaration of support for Telangana is mere lip service and that it would create all sorts of hurdles in the passage of the bill as it is working on an electoral tie-up with Telugu Desam Party, which has opposed the bill.
“The BJP wants to sail in two boats. It does not want to be seen to be going back on its commitment on the formation of Telangana. At the same time, it is finding excuses to see that the bill does not come up for discussion,” a senior Congress minister told rediff.com.
While the UPA government is determined to go ahead with the Telangana bill, the BJP finds itself in a dilemma on the statehood issue. Party insiders admitted that since it has taken a public stand in support of Telangana, it is not sure how far it should go in raising technical objections to block the legislation.
The BJP has consistently maintained that it will support the bill provided the House is in order. At the same time, it has also been demanding “justice for the Seema-Andhra” in the form a substantial financial package since it is hoping to make political gains in this region in alliance with the TDP.
With the Lok Sabha Speaker suspending the protesting anti-Telangana MPs and the Centre promising to address the grievances of Seema-Andhra, the BJP may find it difficult to derail the bill when it comes up debate and passage next week.
In an effort to placate the people of Seema-Andhra, the ruling alliance has promised to initiate a series of measures to promote industrialisation and economic growth in this region along with a hefty financial package and tax incentives.
The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday has also promised that the capital of the Andhra state (comprising the Seema-Andra region) will be undertaken within 45 days, while Hyderabad will be the common capital of Telangana and Seema-Andhra for ten years.
In addition, the ruling alliance has said it will set up an apex council for the supervision of the Krishna and Godavari rivers management boards to address the concerns on river water sharing following the division of the state.
Image: BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and L K Advani