Questions Aplenty

‘The Group of Four’

Julio Ribeiro

WHAT motivated Sagar Sharma and Manoranjan D to descend from the visitors’ gallery to the floor of the House and release smoke from canisters to cause a commotion? Both young men and their co-conspirators who protested outside the Parliament building had one thing in common–they were educated but unemployed.

It is gracious of the Speaker to assume responsibility for what went wrong. The people, of course, may not appreciate these niceties.

One of them had repeatedly appeared before Army and police recruitment boards, but failed to make the cut. A woman among them is well into her 30s. Though armed with academic degrees and certificates, she could not land a job as a primary or secondary school teacher. So, she took part in the farmers’ protest outside Delhi in 2020-21 and, later, in the sit-in organised by medal-winning women wrestlers protesting against a BJP MP, who was then the president of the Wrestling Federation of India.

Is unemployment now a major factor in India and did the youth involved feel that they had to highlight the plight of the unemployed before those empowered by the voters to make laws? Was this the sole motive for the doomed escapade? Or was it something sinister? Could an Opposition party or the entire INDIA bloc be behind this parody? Remember also that the pro-Khalistan founder of Sikhs for Justice, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, had threatened to strike back when he learnt from the disclosures made public by the US authorities that the Indian government or one of its accredited operatives was involved in a conspiracy to murder him. Pannun had threatened that December 13, the anniversary of the 2001 Parliament attack, would be the ‘day of reckoning’.

There could be many reasons why these four desperate young people from different parts of the country, ranging from Haryana to Maharashtra, were brought together by Lalit Jha, who is also unemployed. All five youths had come to know each other through a Facebook group called ‘Bhagat Singh Fan Page’. Jha was arrested in Kolkata and is being questioned.

Home Minister Amit Shah has not made a statement in the House about the obvious breach of security. The Opposition had demanded such a statement from him. It was to be followed by a discussion in the House. It could be that Shah is waiting for the outcome of Jha’s interrogation, but he has not specified that reason. Shah is reported to be sheltering under the Lok Sabha Speaker’s stand that he (Speaker) is the final arbiter on whatever occurs in the precincts of Parliament and the authorities have to act on his orders.

Is the security of the Parliament House and its occupants, the MPs and officials, not the responsibility of the government of the day? Did then Home Minister not give a statement after the 2001 attack and the Opposition parties not condemn the shoddy security arrangements? It is the first time that citizens have been informed that even security in Parliament is the responsibility of the Speaker! The officials and the police were unaware of this new interpretation. It is gracious of the Speaker to assume responsibility for what went wrong and deflect it away from the Home Minister. The people, of course, may not appreciate these niceties.

A question needs to be asked: How did Sharma and Manoranjan, who procured visitors’ passes from the BJP MP from Mysuru, manage to enter with smoke canisters hidden in their shoes? It is learnt that the young men ‘modified’ their shoes to accommodate a canister each! That would surely make it awkward for them to walk even a few steps! The bulging shoes should have immediately attracted the attention of the security personnel on duty.

A media report states that leaflets carried by the intruders and thrown in the well of the House were also hidden in the shoes. How many leaflets can be carried in this fashion? The ‘modified’ shoes would have been spotted by other visitors to the Lok Sabha gallery, even if the security men were inattentive. There is a lot of explanation to do.

The other sensational news in the past week was that the family of Nikhil Gupta, the man arrested in the Czech Republic at the behest of the US government for being involved in a conspiracy with an Indian government official to assassinate a US citizen (Pannun), has moved India’s Supreme Court. The family has pleaded that he should not be extradited to the US as he has not committed the crime in question. The Czechs are more likely to pay heed to the US government’s demand than submit themselves to the jurisdiction of an Indian court.

One wondered how India’s powerful and astute Prime Minister would pull India out of this mess. After the G20 summit, he is a global figure with clout on the world stage, but it is not enough to defy edicts or demands of a powerful country like the US. That country’s judicial system rotates on a different plane from India’s. The judges there are presumably independent of the political executive. Gupta may run out of options if the facts disclosed by the Americans have a leg to stand on.

Pannun has a following among some expatriate Sikhs. His views have cut no ice with Sikhs in India, particularly Punjab. But with this narrative of being targeted, he may gain some adherents among unemployed Sikhs.

Prime Minister Modi’s economic policies have greatly benefited the ‘haves’ in the country. Since his party’s well-oiled propaganda machine and the absence of a credible Opposition leader have made a third term for him a near certainty, he can afford to reduce his own role in electioneering to concentrate on the economic needs of those at the bottom of the ladder. There are many states in the country over which unemployment looms large.

[Courtesy: The Tribune]

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Vol 56, No. 28, Jan 7 - 13, 2024