After Ranveer Chopra’s explosive speech in the Lok Sabha, the House assembled and adjourned within minutes in the following days, with the Opposition going up in arms about the SMRA (Social Media Regulation) Bill. It was another such day and Raghav sat in the RJM office watching the outrage on TV, while a busybody Sehrawat fretted around arranging and rearranging documents. ‘Sehrawatji, do you think this will ever get passed?’ asked
Raghav, staring at the chaos as the speaker desperately tried to calm people down.
Sehrawat stopped what he was doing, pulled up a chair and sat beside Raghav. ‘If the government wants it to pass, it will. Regardless of whether the Opposition relents or not.’
‘But there has to be a debate, right?’
‘That’s the practice. But since when do we care about the practice?’ responded Sehrawat, as he watched the commotion.
‘The INSP issued a three-line whip today, did you know?’ Raghav whipped around to look at him. ‘What? Today?’
‘Yes. And so did the RJM. I sent it myself last night,’
Sehrawat extended his hand and pulled out a sheet of paper
from his table.
All Members of Rashtrawadi Janata Manch are required to be present and vote in favour of the Social Media Regulation Bill on Friday in the Lok Sabha.
Nandita Morey, Chief Whip, Rashtrawadi Janata Manch, New Delhi
Raghav stared at the document. This was the first time he was seeing a whip and it made him cringe. ‘They’re going to try and pass it today,’ said Sehrawat.
‘Whether a debate happens or not.’
‘But … that’s just wrong! Why isn’t anyone talking about this and protesting?’
Three-line whip: An official order given to MPs by the chief whip of a party, asking
them to be present and vote on a bill in a certain way. Can be sent as a letter, email or
even as a text.
Sehrawat had a blank look on his face. ‘Do you really think anybody knows how these things work? Or anybody even cares, for that matter?’
Raghav didn’t respond.
‘Look, the speaker has stopped trying to calm them down. She’ll start the voting process any moment now.’
As if on cue, the speaker announced clause-by-clause voting on the SMRA Bill. All amidst continued outrage in the Lok Sabha, which just seemed to grow louder. The camera showed shouting, screaming MPs right in front of her high chair, yelling with abandon while the speaker read out the clauses.
‘… Clauses 1 to 8. All those in favour, say “aye”. All against, say “no”,’ said the speaker while the MPs said a giant resounding NO in unison. Raghav watched with bated breath. ‘I think the ayes have it. The ayes have it. Clauses 1 to 8 passed,’ announced the speaker without hesitation. Raghav stood up, rather outraged.
‘What the fuck is going on! They said no!’ he shouted. Sehrawat sullenly watched the TV screen without saying a single word. The speaker continued to call out the next bunch of clauses and casually passed them despite resounding yells of ‘NO’.
‘What the fuck what the fuck! Why is nobody objecting to this!?’ shouted Raghav.
‘This is what bulldozing looks like, Raghav. It’s not new. Happens all the time,’ said Sehrawat calmly.
‘But … they are saying no!’
‘That’s the voice vote. So it’s at the discretion of the speaker. If she feels there are more voices present saying aye, she will declare it.’
‘Someone stop this!’ Raghav stared agitated at the screen and he heard one random voice yelling, ‘I call for division! DIVISION!’
Sehrawat burst out laughing. ‘Aah, yes. Division! That voice sounded familiar.’ He looked at Raghav slyly. It sounded an awful lot like Prabhu Srikar.
The voice vote might be arbitrary, but division was a solid way to decide whether a bill should be passed or not. Any member in the House could get up and demand it. After the demand was made, the speaker had to ask for the lobbies to be cleared and for members to vote from their position in the House. Each member had three buttons: green for yes, red for no, yellow for abstain. The final number of yeses, noes and abstains were then displayed on a screen.
Raghav saw the speaker stop her rapid clause rattling and look up. An attendant came and said something to her. Unfortunately, they had made a huge mistake. There was a button under the speaker’s desk which shut off the microphones whenever the attendant and the speaker wanted to have a conversation, so that the rest of the House and the people watching TV couldn’t hear them. Well, they forgot to do that.
‘Ignore him, madam. Ignore him,’ said the attendant.
Raghav watched the scene unfolding uncomfortably. Ignore him? Really?
The speaker just continued reading out the next clauses and doing the voice vote. The uproar from the Opposition grew louder and then suddenly, the screen froze. For the next fifteen seconds, it showed a still frame of the speaker reading out the clauses and then blackness.
‘What the fuck just happened?! They shut off the transmission! This is outrageous!’ screamed Raghav, literally tearing out his hair. ‘This is wrong! They just don’t care!’ He whipped out his phone and @Arnavinator started his thing.
The government just shut down Lok Sabha TV transmission.
Speaker ignored a call for division from someone. Democracy just
died. The black screen proves it.
At this point, even Sehrawat looked slightly troubled. Raghav had never seen him like this before. He had a worried frown on his face as he looked at the TV screen. Suddenly, after ten-odd minutes of darkness, the telecast resumed to show the speaker announcing, ‘The ayes have it. The ayes have it. The Social Media Regulation Authority Bill stands passed.’ What was even more stunning was that this was happening amidst complete silence. The camera panned to show the treasury benches banging their hands appreciatively on the table. They didn’t even bother to show the Opposition benches. Were they even there?
‘House adjourned till 11 a.m. on Monday.’ With those words, the usual ‘House Adjourned’ screen showed up on Lok Sabha TV.
Raghav ran out of the office towards the Lok Sabha entrance. He was not allowed to go inside, so he just stood there waiting for the MPs to emerge. Seriously, what the fuck was going on?
After a minute, a steady filter of jovial MPs streamed out and started walking towards the Central Hall, slapping each other’s backs cheerfully, as if this was the most normal day of their lives. Srikar emerged like a ghost, staring at his feet and walking slowly towards Raghav. There was an invisible cushion around him, as if he were cursed, as if he had some disease, and everybody had to maintain a distance from him. Srikar briefly looked up at Raghav. His eyes spelled defeat.
Srikar and Raghav stood outside Gate Number 2 of Parliament, waiting for Jeetu to arrive with the car. There was a heavy silence hanging between them. Srikar had not spoken a single word after the events that unfolded in the Lok Sabha. Raghav asked him whether he was the one who’d asked for division and all he got was a distracted nod in response.
Someone tapped Raghav on his shoulder. He turned around to see Nikita standing there and he instinctively knew what she wanted. ‘No, Nikita, he will not give you a comment. Please move away,’ he said curtly.
Srikar turned to see what was going on. Nikita said to him, ‘Srikar sir, please can you give me an account of what happened inside the Lok Sabha today? The story deserves to get out.’
Srikar just kept looking at her, giving no response. His car wheeled in behind him and Raghav moved towards it to open the back door.
(Excerpted with the permission of Harper Collins India)