Lok Sabha telecast goes mute, Congress says ‘fatal blow to democracy’
The Lok Sabha went mute on Friday for the outside world as the rest of the country could not hear the noise of democracy that can sometimes get uncomfortable for the rulers.
As the Congress members burst into a chorus of “Rahul ji ko bolne do (Let Rahul speak)” when the Lok Sabha assembled at 11am, the audio feed from the entire House got muted, rendering the live telecast on Sansad TV meaningless as the audience across the country could not make out what was happening. The images could be seen but no voice could be heard.
The slogan-shouting continued, with members from the Treasury benches and the Opposition roaring to put across their points of view, but the telecast remained in silent mode.
The Lok Sabha secretariat later said this was not intentional and was caused by a technical glitch.
The sound came on for a few seconds when the Speaker appealed for normality, telling members they would be allowed to speak if order was restored, and then went off again. At 11.22am, the House was adjourned till Monday and the sound system functioned normally for that announcement.
“When you silence voices in Parliament, Mute the microphones of people’s representatives, Turn off the volume of Sansad TV, You are actually silencing the people. It’s a fatal blow to democracy, as it kills its very essence,” the Congress wrote on Twitter later.
Party spokesperson Supriya Shrinate posted two videos — one of Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar claiming that the mike had never been switched off in the Lok Sabha, and another of Friday’s proceedings when the House suddenly went mute as the Opposition was shouting slogans. She asked: “Are you listening Dhankhar ji? Not just a mike, here the entire House has been muted.”
Without naming Rahul, Dhankhar had hit out at the Congress MP for saying in the UK that mikes in India’s Parliament are sometimes switched off when Opposition MPs are speaking. The BJP and ministers in the Narendra Modi government have demanded an apology from the Congress leader, accusing him of defaming Indian democracy abroad.
The BJP’s leaders said they would not allow Rahul to speak in Parliament until he apologises. On Thursday, Rahul had asked the Speaker to allow him time to speak in the Lok Sabha, pointing out that four ministers had levelled allegations against him and as an MP he had the right to respond.
Responding to BJP chief J.P. Nadda’s demand for Rahul’s apology, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said: “A Prime Minister who humiliates the citizens by saying nothing was done in 60 years and insults India by claiming that people lamented what sin they committed to have been born in this country should apologise first.”
Kharge declared that there was no question of Rahul apologising and that the BJP’s propaganda would be demolished if there was a debate in Parliament.
Rahul had on Thursday said he did not think he would be allowed to speak in Parliament, and added that the attacks by the BJP on him were merely attempts to divert attention from the real question: “What is the Prime Minister’s relationship with Adani?”
Many Congress leaders said on Friday that the House was muted out of fear that Rahul might start speaking amid the ruckus and put across his point of view.
Commenting on the muting, Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “Kathni mein democracy par karni mein tanashahi (democracy in word, autocracy in deed).”
The party tweeted: “What has Modi done so far to protect Adani? He got the speeches expunged from parliamentary records, refused to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), adjourned Parliament, stopped MPs from marching to office of Enforcement Directorate and muted the Lok Sabha!” After both Houses were adjourned in the morning to meet again on Monday, Opposition members assembled in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue with musical instruments and started singing in favour of a JPC probe into the Adani controversy.
Led by Sonia Gandhi, Kharge and Rahul Gandhi, the Opposition members demonstrated for some time. The mode of protest could change next week, with many members insistent on intensifying it.
Refusing to yield on Adani, the Congress persisted with its HAHK (Hum Adani Ke Hain Kaun) series addressed to Prime Minister Modi, asking if his government was mounting pressure on banks, governments and regulatory authorities to bail out Adani.
Recalling that almost one month after the Hindenburg report accused the Adani group of accounting fraud and stock manipulation, sending its shares tumbling, the CEO of the Bank of Baroda had said the bank would continue to lend money to the conglomerate, Jairam Ramesh said: “This statement came at a time when the value of Adani collateral in the form of pledged stock had collapsed by more than half, prompting margin calls by big global lenders concerned about repayment and fresh questions about the group’s ability to service and repay its huge debt.”
Ramesh asked: “Was this yet another case of phone banking by your government? Is it true that the CEO was subsequently asked to clarify his statement by members of Parliament on March 6, 2023, at a historic south Indian location, and if so will you share his answer with the people of India?” Ramesh further said: “A 2014 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that Adani Ports had benefited to the tune of Rs 118.12 crore after the GMB (Gujarat Maritime Board) applied the incorrect royalty rates to a newly built quay at Mundra Port. More importantly, the CAG found that ‘no system to monitor the construction activities at the private ports was in existence and that the MIS did not provide performance-related details on the activities of the ports’.
“The benefit to Adani Ports, the dominant ports player in the state, of this non-existent monitoring may therefore have been many multiples of the observed Rs 118 crore. How many different ways did you find to weaken state institutions and to enrich your cronies as the chief minister of Gujarat?”
Recalling that while global index providers such as MSCI, S&P, Dow Jones and FTSE Russell had reviewed the position of Adani stocks in their equity indices, the National Stock Exchange (NSE) had gone the other way and included five Adani group companies in no less than 14 indices, beginning March 20, 2023, Ramesh said: “This week, the NSE announced that Adani Enterprises, Adani Power and Adani Wilmar would exit the additional surveillance mechanism framework from March 17, 2023, that had been put in place to protect investors from excessive risk.
“Surely the timing is not a coincidence? Why is Sebi standing by as the NSE chooses to protect the Adani group’s interests rather than that (sic) of lakhs of small investors? Why is Sebi allowing index investors to take on additional exposure to Adani group stocks when financial advisors, who generally wealthier investors can afford, have been advising their clients to avoid investing in Adani group stocks?”