One good indicator of how mature and efficient a democracy is happens to be the way governments and Oppositions interact. If one goes by what took place on the floor of the Andhra Pradesh assembly on Monday, the state of democracy in the country is in serious need of rehaul. During Question Hour, the Speaker allowed Telugu Desam Party leader Devender Goud to speak on the arrest of party MLAs who were on their way to the Obulapuram mines in Anantapur district to protest against the mines being leased by the government to an alleged associate of the Chief Minister.
Mr Goud found it ‘strange’ that the mines were made off-limit to Opposition MLAs, and he alleged that Congress Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy was allowing someone — ironically a BJP member of the legislative council — to ‘indulge in illegal mining’. However wild these accusations may or may not be, it was Mr Reddy’s response that has left us speechless. His reply to Mr Goud was that it was TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu, who during his chief ministership, had granted the lease. But instead of stopping there, Mr Reddy reportedly lashed out that he would “expose all of [Mr Naidu’s] misdeeds in such a way that [he] would repent having come out of [his] mother’s womb”. Predictably, pandemonium followed. As far as the issue of propriety over the mines go, nobody went home any the wiser. Mr Reddy’s bizarre riposte did not serve any purpose, least of all that of clearing the air. Instead, it has left yet another assembly reeking with unpleasantness.
The Opposition’s right to question the government is a cornerstone of the parliamentary democratic process. By raising the issue of the mines, the TDP was not indulging in any extra-constitutional, radical activity. It was doing its job. But a look at the way governments and Oppositions have conducted their business over the years hardly makes us believe that the Hyderabad incident was an anomaly. In 1997, microphones and objects were ripped off and hurled in the Uttar Pradesh assembly. In 2005, the Lucknow shame was replicated in the Gujarat assembly; and late last year it was the turn of the West Bengal assembly to be trashed. At the central level, the NDA has, on more than one occasion, shortcircuited parliamentary sessions, all in the name of protesting against some, or the other, government (in)action. In Hyderabad, incredibly enough, it has been the Congress government that has made a mockery of the parliamentary exercise. If the government-Opposition tango devolves to nothing but a senseless, pointless series of tangles, we should seriously reconsider calling ourselves the world’s largest democracy.