July 26: Maoists have driven the state underground.
For the first time since Independence, an Assembly today held a secret sitting — with no visitors, journalists or cameras present, only the MLAs and three officials.
The reason: the Chhattisgarh Assembly was discussing the Naxalite menace, described last year by the Prime Minister as the “biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”.
Chief minister Raman Singh said he decided on an in-camera session to allow members to discuss the issue “openly and freely”. What the statement implied, but left unsaid, was that elected legislators are reluctant to speak out with the Naxalites watching.
Assembly secretary Devendra Verma said as much: “The members avoid speaking on such sensitive issues in the open. Even the government, which finalises strategic plans for such problems, avoids opening its cards.”
The decision to hold the session behind closed doors appeared to have worked. The House, which met at 11am, was to sit till 3pm but the discussion was first extended by three hours and then again by another two hours.
Other than the MLAs, only the state’s top officials — chief secretary Shivraj Singh, principal secretary S.V. Prabhat and director-general of police Viswaranjan — were present.
Speaker Prem Prakash Pandey said afterwards that members of the ruling and the Opposition parties had a constructive discussion and he was hopeful the debate would result in a solution. He refused to give details of the talks.
Leader of the Opposition Mahendra Karma and BJP legislator Devji Patel said all members had been briefed not to speak about the session. Even minutes of the discussion will be kept under wraps.
Rule 163 A — under which the Speaker gave consent for the session — says any disclosure of the proceedings will be treated as “gross breach of privilege of the Assembly”.
Former chief minister Ajit Jogi was unimpressed. “Being the first to do this or that does not mean anything. Dr Raman Singh must remember it is the government’s responsibility to ensure peace and safety.”
But party colleague Karma, who leads the 35 Congress MLAs in the 90-member House, was more supportive. He agreed that the session had to be held in secrecy because Naxalites often target MLAs who speak out against them and hoped something “concrete” would emerge out of it.
“Generally, a secret sitting of Parliament or the Assemblies is held in wartime. It underlines that the menace of Red army is no less than a war,” a Congress member said.
Hundreds killed in relentless attacks and 13 states designated Naxalite-hit have not caused the alarm that a single blast in Delhi or Mumbai does, but perhaps the sight of the state going under cover will force urban India to wake up to the problem of the outback.