'Murder of democracy' and then a shutdown in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram, March 14: While the rival fronts in the Kerala assembly have claimed 'victory' over what happened on Saturday on the floor of the house, the real looser has been democracy. If that was not enough, the Left opposition called a state- wide shut down on Saturday to protest against its legislators being manhandled.

Unlike in yesteryears, when followers of democracy had to wait till the next day to read from the newspapers about what happened in the state, times have changed and the entire event was brought live to their drawing rooms by nearly a dozen TV channels, leaving many asking: Is this what is expected from our elected representatives.


The ugly bedlam in the most hallowed place of democracy - the assembly - was telecast live by the national TV channels, forcing the chief justice of India to ask a Keralite lawyer in the midst of a case: "What's happening in your state?"

What happened yesterday was the followup to what the Left opposition, led by 91-year- old veteran communist V.S. Achuthanandan had earlier announced that in no way would it allow "tainted" Finance Minister K.M. Mani to present the budget as he had been named an accused in a bribery case.

Equally determined was the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front's stance that even though the case was being probed and with a few petitions seeking intervention of the Lok Ayukta and the Kerala High Court to ask Mani to quit being dismissed, its contention was until the trial is over and the verdict announced, no one becomes an accused.

The Left opposition did its best to prevent Mani and in the melee, it turned its ire towards the new speaker, N. Sakthan, elected less than 24 hours before, when he tried to enter his podium in the assembly. The Left legislators barged into the dais and threw out the speaker's chair and then turned towards his table and in a flash his computer, keyboard, mike and other electronic equipment was seen taking the aerial route.

It's rare that such a situation has happened in any state assembly. While the ruckus was going on, Sakthan was seen gesticulating to Mani to begin presenting the budget. After reading for a few minutes, Mani laid the budget papers on the table. It was his record 13th budget.

While Mani was in the process of reading, the Left legislators on one side and the security guards and a section of treasury bench on the other were engaging in pushing and pulling, forget about the abuses that were hurled. A woman legislator from the Left lost her cool and bit a Congress legislator.

Later, after things cooled down, there were a series of press conferences by the rival fronts, each claiming the other was wrong and they were right.

And, if these ugly incidents were not enough, the Left announced that to protest the manhandling of about 20 of their legislators by the security staff and the treasury bench legislators, a state-wide shutdown will be observed on Saturday.

At night, the rival fronts met Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam and gave their version of what happened.

With daggers drawn, all eyes are on how the remainder of the assembly session will go. Indications are that it will certainly not be easy going as tempers are running high.


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