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Indian Parliament roundup, 7-11 December 2009 December 14, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Sundaram, Manu , trackback

Manu Sundaram

The week at the Indian Parliament provided a glimpse of the tumultuous past and the tentative future of the nation. The fate of India as a multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual society was at the centre of Parliamentary discussion and deliberation.

On 7 December, the Lok Sabha initiated discussion under Rule 193 (Parliamentary discussion with no voting) on the Liberhan Commission Report. The Liberhan Commission was a one-man Commission—retired High Court Justice Liberhan—that was constituted to look in to the events of 6 December 1992 at Ayodhya. After 17 years and multiple extensions, the Report was submitted in July 2009 and generated great controversy after citing Mr Kalyan Singh (Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh), Mr LK Advani (Leader of Opposition), Mr AB Vajpayee (Former Prime Minister of India) and much of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership, among those responsible for demolishing the disputed structure. The disputed structure may be referred to as the Ram Janma Bhoomi Babri Masjid (RJBBM) complex which was demolished by karsevaks (cadres) of the RSS, to facilitate the building of a Ram Mandir, despite the protest of Muslim groups.

The longstanding contention of the BJP and RSS has been that the disputed structure was originally a Ram Mandir and that the demolition of the complex was a spontaneous outpouring of emotion. The first premise was disregarded as outside the scope of the Liberhan Commission’s mandate and the second was strongly disproved by the well documented accounts of enormous transfer of money to BJP and RSS accounts, the arrival of close to 500,000 karsevaks in Ayodhya and the extensive purchase of trishuls in the lead up to the event.

While speaking at the discussion in the Lok Sabha, the Union Minister for Home Affairs Mr P Chidambaram’s address was drowned in sloganeering by BJP members. However, Mr Chidambaram was at his eloquent best when he dismissed the BJP’s efforts to divide the country on the basis of religion and described the idea of India as that of “plural and inclusive” society. To the thumping of the Treasury benches, the unshakeable Mr Chidambaram categorically stated that it is this idea “that will prevail”, thus concluding the debate on one of India’s darkest days.

The primary legislative business that was undertaken by the Lok Sabha this past week pertained to the “Sugarcane Ordinance”. The Essential Commodities (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance 2009, promulgated in October while the Parliament was not in session, was in response to the Supreme Court which directed the Union Government to pay Rs 14,000 crores in dues to sugar millers.

The policy of the Union Government has been to procure a certain quantity of sugar (called ‘levy sugar’) to stock its Public Distribution System. Also, the Union Government provides a Statutory Minimum Price (SMP) which is related to factors such as the price of growing cane, alternative crops, fair price of sugar and sugar content. The SMP is the benchmark price for procurement of levy sugar. There is also a Minimum Support Price (MSP), which is fixed by the Government, so that farmers are entitled to a minimum price for their crops and are cushioned against any shocks in the open market. The State Governments too provide a State Advisory Price (SAP) which is usually higher than the SMP.

The sugar millers, primarily belonging to Uttar Pradesh, went to the Supreme Court on the contention that they were being forced to sell sugar at a loss by the price-fixing policies of the Union Government. The Union Government, in response to the Supreme Court Order, brought in the legislation to redefine the MSP to a new “Fair and Remunerative Price” which takes into account other factors such as risk and reasonable profit for farmers, thereby raising the minimum price payable to farmers by millers.

The second half of the week witnessed a high level of political churning due to a statement made by the Union Home Minister Mr P Chidambaram that the process to create India’s 29th state – Telengana – out of Andhra Pradesh will be commenced. This follows two weeks of agitation by pro-Telengana supporters headed by the Member of Parliament K Chandrashekar Rao, President of the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti. Subsequent to the announcement, more than 120 Members of Legislative Assembly of Andhra Pradesh (out of atotal of 294) have resigned in protest against the bifurcation of the state.

Andhra Pradesh, comprising of Telugu speakers and one of the earliest states to be carved out of the Madras Presidency on the basis of the language, has seen a pro-Telengana movement for over fifty years. The announcement of the Union Government has raised serious questions about the fate of many other similar demands for smaller states such as Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Poorvanchal (Uttar Pradesh), and Vidharbha (Maharashtra).


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