Nearly a month ago, the huge cloud bursts leading to Himalayan Tsunami had hit Kedarnath and adjoining areas taking in their fold an estimated 5000 + people dead, thousands missing and several thousand somehow escaping to safety. The damage to buildings, roads and bridges were incalculable and may take years to get restored. The holy Kedarnath temple miraculously stood intact in the midst of the ruins all around.
All these human miseries were brought, many a time, live by the TV news channels for days together. In the midst of the ruins all over this Himalayan stretch and the Herculean task of massive rescue and relief operations meticulously carried out by our brave Armed forces, what perhaps at the end of the day stood out as irritants certainly bordering on oddity, were a couple of news items.
One that reported of nearly 15,000 Gujarat pilgrims getting rescued in one scoop in just a couple of days owing largely to imagination, efforts and leadership of an individual; and the other, the kind of scuffles that were witnessed at Dehra Dun airport between Andhra Pradesh CM’s men and those holding banners of Telugu Desham Party (TDP) – the two groups coming to fists with each other over taking the rescued and stranded Andhra pilgrims back home in their respective aircrafts parked side by side at the airport. Both the news were bizarre and the only explanation that may seem applicable to both is that the political parties are getting a little too pro-active, too early and seem unwilling to let go by any opportunities even while 2014 Elections are some distance away.
Then came the news of the Supreme Court having a go at filtering out the criminal elements from India’s democratic political space. In a couple of significant judgements delivered in quick succession, the Apex court held that: (a) the moment a legislature (MP or MLA) gets convicted by a court of law, he/she ceases to be a Member of the House he/she earlier happened to be a part of. While ordering so the Apex court also struck down Section 8(4) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 (that says: ‘Notwithstanding anything in sub section (1), sub section (2) or sub section (3) , a disqualification under either sub section shall not, in case of a person who on the date of conviction is a Member of Parliament or the Legislature of a State, take effect until three months have elapsed from the date or, if within that period an appeal or application for revision is brought in respect of the conviction or the sentence, until that appeal or application is disposed of by the court.’) holding the same as unconstitutional; and (b) the under trial prisoners, the jailbirds, having forfeited their rights to vote shall henceforth be not permitted to contest the Parliamentary and/or Assembly elections.
Predictably, these judgements while widely welcomed by the voting class, got a rather raw deal at the hands of the political class. It was termed as judicial overreach and a series of lively debates followed on news channels. The spokespersons of the national political parties were seen and heard defending their take – a unified one opposing the judicial verdicts – on this issue. While those representing apolitical outfits on such panels, were seen advocating for taking the judicial pronouncements forward in our bid to de-criminalise our heavily polluted political environment by such elements. The political class till the other day talking endlessly about the need to cleanse and get rid of the criminals from its midst, however, stood out exposed when it said that the judgements needed to be reviewed.
Worse to follow, however, for the political class, soon after, was an order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) declaring the political parties as the ‘public authorities’ under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and thereby falling under its ambit. If nothing else, this served as perfect glue for the political parties of all hues and shades to get together and gel firmly well to keep protecting their otherwise well guarded respective citadels.
The government of the day is reportedly all set to take measures to keep protecting the criminally sullied MPs, MLAs and other such individuals in its own ingenious way. Also, it intends to bring in an amendment – invoking its power to legislate – in the relevant Section of the RTI Act – to take care and safeguard the interests of the political parties in general and thus to be able to thwart the CIC ruling. This approach, however, may otherwise seem contradicting its own oft repeated slogan: ‘Let the law take its own course’, for in the instant RTI matter, the usual course available is to move the High Court and then on to the Supreme Court, if need be – that’s being bypassed by the political class.
Much though, therefore, a Arnab Goswami, a Rajdeep Sardesai, a Barkha Dutt and a Rahul may be pitching in anchoring the debates on such issues in a bid to project the voices of the common people and in the process, aiming to embarrass the political class, it would be the political class that may have the last laugh at the end of the day.
Only the other day a Union Minister was heard saying that governance and administration of this country cannot be judiciary-driven or media-driven, it has got to be the political masters-driven. So, here we, the citizens of India, go.
However, what has made watching the news channels livelier lately is an issue of US visa for Narendra Modi advocated by the BJP chief during his recent visit to that country. What followed thereafter was simply amazing and somewhat incomprehensible for discerning observers. 65 Indian MPs signing a petition urging the Obama administration not to pay any heed to such a request; some of these MPs later also saying that they never signed it, yet others asserting that all signatures were genuine. All such discussions shown – many a time live on news channels – provided an interesting, entertaining interlude to otherwise dull evenings to many. However, for the serious viewers, the kind of irresponsible act on the part of these MPs, with apparently an eye on the 2014 Elections, has otherwise seriously undermined the prestige of the world’s biggest democracy.
What may have, however, further disturbed the intelligentsia class in particular was the consequence that followed a TV interview of Nobel laureate and Bharat Ratna Professor Amartya Sen. Among other things, Professor Sen, in this interview, while responding to a question stated that he does not want Narendra Modi as Prime Minister for he is not a secular. This statement was enough to set the TV news channel studios ablaze. Chandan Mitra, a Rajya Sabha BJP MP reacting angrily to this went so far as to suggest that should NDA come to power, Professor Sen would be stripped of his Bharat Ratna.
The Nobel laureate, however, kept his cool and offered to surrender his Bharat Ratna should Atal Bihari Vajpayee (who as PM of NDA government had conferred on him this award) ask him to do so. Professor Sen politely affirmed: ‘It’s not about the Ratna that I value but it’s Bharat that I value most. On getting Bharat Ratna, I do not lose my right to speak out my mind.’ BJP rightly distanced itself on this from Chandan Mitra who later regretted having said so. But then, the damage was done. The BJP MP seems to be over obsessed on the issue of Modi as PM in 2014.
So, all kinds of happenings are taking place in the run up to 2014 Elections. The 24×7 TV news channels picking on all such utterances by the political personalities – big and small – are transforming them into debates in a manner to grab more and more eye balls. News Channels are getting busier and livelier by the day no matter the themes and issues discussed may, at times, be getting nastier though. As I write this, the latest issue to join the idiot box is Congress’s Raj Babbar, MP, saying that Rs.12/- could get a meal in Mumbai and Rashid Masood, MP, going a step ahead to say that Rs.5/- could get a meal in Delhi – out and out insensitive assertions mocking the poor. The opposition parties obviously are taking this forward to corner the Congress party and get the poor on to their side – all with an eye firmly fixed on 2014 Elections.
Days ahead leading up to 2014, the tantrums of the two main political parties in particular are likely to dominate the news space more often, more intensified and would obviously be more visible.
Keep awake! Keep watching!!