The Telangana Chief Minister is facing flak for his unilateral decisions, but he remains unfazed
If it was the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) last year, it is the Congress party this year. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao continues to sharpen his attack on opposition parties in the State as the clock ticks towards the Assembly polls in 2019.
On Tuesday, the Speaker of the Telangana Assembly expelled two Congress MLAs for criticising the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti-led government. One of the MLAs, Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, hurled headphones at the podium, in the process injuring legislative council chairman K Swamy Goud in the eye. SA Sampath Kumar too has been expelled from the Assembly for the remainder of his tenure as MLA, for shouting loudly on the floor.
What has come as a shock is the suspension of 11 others including the Leader of the Opposition and senior Congress legislator K Jana Reddy from the House.
But KCR is unperturbed. He told the Assembly on Wednesday that the ban on protests and dharnas in the Assembly was an action by the former Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu in 2004, and not a new innovation by the TRS.
Why The Melee
On Monday, after the Governor’s address was over, Congress and TRS MLAs were at loggerheads with each other. Some Congressmen were allegedly charged with coming drunk to the House. Amidst heated arguments, Congress MLAs challenged the ruling party, asking for an alcohol test of all MLAs including the Chief Minister and others in the ruling party. “Everyone knows what happened in the Pragati Bhavan (CM’s camp office) and KCR’s farmhouse. Let all go for a liquor test (including the CM),” said Komatireddy Venkat Reddy in the Assembly corridor. That perhaps was the trigger for which TRS and KCR took revenge the next day.
When the house met on Tuesday, the Speaker S. Madhusudhana Chary, expressed his concern over the degenerating behaviour in the House and sought the opinion of the members as to how to deal with such growing tendencies. Speakers from TRS and MIM (Majlis-e-itahadul-Muslimeen) demanded action on the erring MLAs. The BJP and Congress MLAs were barely allowed to speak.
On the approval of KCR, Legislative Affairs Minister T Harish Rao moved a resolution for their expulsion along with the suspension of 11 other Congress MLAs, including the Leader of Opposition K Jana Reddy, for the entire duration of the Budget session.
Quoting from the Assembly rule book on proceedings – clause 2/320 and para 7.1 on page 122 – Speaker Madhusudhana Chary said that the punishment rendered was in accordance with Parliamentary practices and other precedences in Assemblies like Gujarat. “The Congress MLAs’ action is a black spot on the Telangana Assembly,” said Chary, while announcing the expulsion and suspensions.
Meanwhile, in the Telangana Legislative Council, the Leader of the Opposition, Mohammed Ali Shabbir and five other Congress MLCs were suspended for the entire duration of the Budget session for similar reasons.
The expelled Congress MLAs are sitting on a 48-hour dharna at Gandhi Bhavan, and all Opposition parties have extended support to them. “All along, KCR and TRS were letting police loose on critics in the public space. But now he is using the office of the Speaker also on critics, where the rights and privileges of elected members are trampled,” says Professor Kodandaram, the chairman of Telangana JAC (Joint Action Committee), a staunch critic of KCR.
It is only ally MIM which has supported KCR in this issue. “We want to see KCR as CM even after 2019,” said Akbaruddin Owaisi, MIM leader in the House.
Clampdown On Criticism
The latest skirmish is an extension of the ongoing power tussle in the state. Hardly a month ago, the TRS government empowered the police to file cases on critics of the government (on social media, at public meetings, in television and print media) – as cognizable and non-bailable offenses under Sections 506 and 507 of the IPC.
The police were empowered to register cases against offenders without reference to court. Section 506 deals with criminal intimidation of a person, while Section 507 of IPC deals with criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication (through social media or anonymous letters, emails, etc). The punishment under both sections is imprisonment ranging from two to seven years with or without fine.
KCR defended the decision as a ‘self-defense measure’ not just for politicians, but also for women, Dalits, Backward Classes and others who have no avenues to protect themselves from the onslaughts of critics. “This is an antidote against the clause of Freedom of Expression often exploited by the vociferous elements against the voiceless and not against democratic dissent,” said H Venugopal, counsel for the Telangana Home Ministry, when questioned in court.
Commenting on the latest development, political columnist KV Charya says, “The intolerance of the TRS government is growing, and sadly the arsenal of the Opposition parties seems to be empty.” Most media houses are afraid to even hint at a criticism of the Chief Minister or the ruling party.
KCR’s intolerance towards the media is legendary. In early 2014 he lashed out at news channels –TV9 and ABN – for criticism of his government. Telangana’s MSO operators (TV channel cable distributors) then stopped broadcasting these channels for almost a year.
In 2017, all three TDP MLAs were suspended for the entire Budget session, for attempts to disturb and protest during the Governor’s address in the Assembly.
Two years ago, KCR directed the police to shut down the Dharna Chowk at Indira Park, which had over the last ten years, particularly during the Telangana agitation, become a popular platform for the Opposition to air their dissent. “KCR attacks Opposition leaders in cheap terms but he gets annoyed and throws tantrums when they pay him by the same coin. It is a one-way regime in Telangana,” says BJP legislator G Kishan Reddy.