In a series of serious developments regarding statements in Parliament, the TRS moved Privilege Motion against the Prime Minister, while the BJP moved a counter Privilege Motion against editors of two pro-TRS daily newspapers Namaste Telangana (Telugu) and Telangana Today (English).
With the active support of BJP, the then opposition party, separate State of Telangana was carved out in 2014 from Andhra Pradesh state during the UPA rule, in response to half-a-century long demand and agitation including the fast unto death by K Chandrasekhar Rao, the present CM. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on February 8, has questioned the procedures adopted by the presiding officer and management of the House during the passage of that Bill in 2014.
The PM said: "What they have done to Andhra Pradesh that provided them an opportunity to sit in power here? They had bifurcated Andhra Pradesh in a very shameful manner…The microphones were closed, pepper spray was used and there was no discussion. Whether this method was correct? Whether it was democracy…. Atalji has created three States- Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand, but there was no commotion, and all the decisions were taken in a cordial manner. This could have happened also in the case of Andhra and Telangana. We are not against Telangana and this could have been done by working together, but your arrogance and intoxication of power, has led to bitterness, which is still continuing…"
Prime Minister was responding to criticism of opposition in Lok Sabha on the motion for thanking the President, recently. It was criticized that some of the Bills were not passed as per the procedure. To retaliate this the PM pointed out that the mikes of the Parliament were closed at the time of voting of the Bill. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi president and the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is very aggressive in recent times in criticizing the Union Government. He also asked for the replacement of the present Constitution with a new one.
TRS MPs notice
The TRS Rajya Sabha members moved a privilege motion under Rule 187 against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 10, 2022, for this statement. TRS Parliamentary Party leader K Keshavarao and three other MPs stated in their complaint: "The statement attempts to show the Parliament Houses in a worst and contemptuous manner, denigrating and demeaning the procedures and proceedings of the House and its functioning. It tantamount to finding fault with the Members of Parliament and the Presiding Officers for their conduct in the house...Even the decision of the Presiding Officer, to close the doors of the House to prevent the spread of disorder or mischief of handful few Members, is brought under the question".
They further noted: "Needless to say the August Houses run under the control and guidance of the Presiding Officer according to the Book and whose word is always final. Finding fault on either count is a contempt of House, raising the issue of its Privilege. In the instant case, the Prime Minister tried to find fault with such conduct of the Presiding Officer and damned them as unruly (sic)."
BJP MPs notice
Then, followed the retaliation 'privilege notice' to the editors of two Telangana newspaper Editors. Within seven days of TRS notice, this notice was filed on 17th February 2022 by Arvind Dharmapuri, BJP MP of Nizamabad, who is the son of TRS leader Dharmapuri Srinivas, a former Congress leader. The Privilege and Ethics Branch of the Lok Sabha Secretariat has received it and immediately issued a 72-hour notice to two editors asking for their response.
BJP MP Arvind Dharmapuri in his notice said that PM did not criticize the bifurcation but disapproved the 'manner', but two newspapers published false and distorted reports continuously about the proceedings by writing provocative articles. Quoting some headlines in these two newspapers such as "Modi's hatred towards Telangana, Modi in 'witness box', If you do not like my state…why do you need my vote, Modi's vengeance on Telangana, He spews venom as Parliament stands witness, Modi reveals his true colors on statehood" Arvind alleged that these comments amounted to breach of privilege and 'contempt of the House. He quoted Rule 222 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha to initiate appropriate action.
It is a political fight between BJP and TRS MPs, and both have brought the PM's speech and process of passing the AP Reorganization Bill in 2014 into focus.
The newspapers have commented upon the PM"s remarks in the House. His comment was interpreted as hatred towards Telangana, which in fact PM did not express. The then Congress MP from Andhra L Rajagopal has brought into House, a pepper sprayer and sprayed it into the eyes of his party MPs who were supporting the division of the state. MPs had to be taken to nearby Ram Manohar Lohia hospital with several eye irritation complaints. PM mentioned this in his speech and called it shameful. Even the TRS sections strongly criticized the unprecedented conduct of Rajagopal in using pepper spray. They are also called shameful.
Similarly, the newspapers commented upon the privilege motion moved by TRS against PM, saying he was the second PM to receive the notice, after Indira Gandhi.
Can it be proper to say PM has committed any breach of privilege? He has every right as an ordinary citizen and also as the leader of the House to comment on the process. If they are any factual issues, they can be countered.
Similarly, the two newspapers have the right to criticize and comment upon a speech. Though the stories were pepped up with sensational headlines and graphics, they did not attribute anything to Parliament. The news stories say how the TRS party and pro-Telangana sections perceived the PM's speech.
All the reports about the proceedings of Parliament and the comments are within the broad scope of freedom of speech and expression. Bringing the PM into this privilege issue and accusing two newspapers of contempt of House, both are not called for.
What is this Privilege?
Mainly the privilege is granting legal immunity to legislators from civil and criminal liability for what they have said and how they have voted in the House. All the democratic nations have granted this 'privilege' to the Houses. The legislators should not be sued for libel, contempt of court, or breaching the Official Secrets Act. MPs cannot be arrested in civil matters. Article 105(2) says: No member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.
It is to be noted that there is no immunity for their criminal actions such as spraying pepper in the eyes of colleagues and officers of Parliament, beating others with plucked-out mikes, injuring, etc.
The privileges also include the autonomy of the House in conducting their house, regulating internal proceedings, and power to punish for breach of privilege or contempt. The last part of the power to punish for contempt directly interferes with the personal liberty and freedom of speech of non-members i.e., ordinary people including journalists.
Unfortunately, the Parliament did not pass any law to explain what are their privileges, and what amounts to contempt of the House. They have not codified the privileges in spite of the Constitution's mandate.
Parliamentarians should remember that they are representatives of the people, who are a superior source of power, and not feudal Lords like some MPs in Britain. These kinds of privileges are redundant and anti-people. They are against the rule of law and equality. 23.2.2022