This post is not about Telangana or even Andhra. This is about India, the rich heritage of this ancient land, the sanctity of our institutions and India's prestige in the community of nations.
Loksabha's day of shame
At around 12 noon on Thursday February 13, 2014, the Indian parliament witnessed an incident that had infamy stamped all over. A businessman-cum-politician Lagadapati Rajagopal used pepper spray against fellow parliamentarians. This attack resulted in immediate chaos with several MP's experienced cough and other respiratory problems. Three MP's required to be hospitalized. Meira Kumar, the honorable Speaker, had to leave the house as she suffered from cough. Sumitra Mahajan, a BJP MP and Saugata Ray of the Trinamool Congress were among others affected.
NDTV journalist Sandeep Phukan provides an eyewitness of the incident. He reports "And as the Home Minister moved the Telangana bill, I saw L Rajagopal, an expelled Congress MP, taking a spray and indiscriminately spraying it inside the Lok Sabha".
The shameful pepper spray attack received widespread coverage all over the world. Pakistan Today, Dawn, Khaleej Times, Strait Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian reported on the news. New York Times, BBC, NBC, ABC, Xinhua, China's Global Times, South Africa's News 24 and Abu Dhabi's National too reported the story. Many of the reports mentioned pepper spay prominently and named Rajagopal, the offending MP. As one can expect, graphic pictures accompanied the coverage.
Rajagopal managed to tarnish beyond redemption India's image in the world by resorting to an act unparalleled in the history of our parliament (or perhaps any parliament anytime).
As the constitutional process of Telangana formation under article 3 is coming to the final stage, the signs emanating from those opposed to it have been ominous. Six MP's of the Congress party (including Rajagopal) filed a no confidence motion against the government led by their own party. Congress expelled these individuals from the party terming it an anti-party activity.
Anti-Telangana groups including six expelled Congress MP's have been vowing to prevent introduction & passing of the Telangana statehood bill. They repeatedly stressed they would take up any action including legal challenge. All such attempts to stall the bill failed to materialize.
The tone of the Telangana opponents turned bitter after the failure. Sabbam Hari, one of the "gang of six", claimed to the vernacular media he would kill himself in the Loksabha if the bill was introduced. He mysteriously added two more MP's would join in the harakiri. Several others including TDP leaders spoke against India striking secessionist notes. Rajagopal, when asked by the media what he would do if the Telangana bill was introduced, replied "wait and watch". There was something brewing in the air from all accounts.
Lagadapati Rajagopal admitted he used pepper spray but did so only to defend himself. He claimed he has started carrying pepper spray as he is apprehending threat to his life for some time.
His version of the incident is that businessman turned TDP MP Modugula Venugopal Reddy was attacked by other MP's. Rajagopal alleged when he tried to rescue Modugula from, he was himself attacked forcing the use of pepper spray.
The offending MP repeatedly stated pepper spray is a legitimate tool for self defense.
Rajagopal's act was widely condemned by a cross section of Indian opinion. The honorable Speaker Meira Kumar called the incident a blot on Indian democracy. Veteran BJP leader LK Advani said he has never seen anything like this in his decades long parliamentary career. Another senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh called the act a disgrace. Former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee called for criminal action against the offender. Janata Dal- United leader Sharad Yadav compared the act to treason. Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyay termed the attack disgraceful.
The national press reacted strongly to the shameful act. Hindustan Times lead with a story "Parliament attacked, but this time by MPs over Telangana". HT said Rajagopal took advantage of the fact that MP's are not frisked "to smuggle in the 200ml pepper spray can". Another MP, according to the newspaper, was caught by security when he tried to sneak in a can of kerosene. The Hindu editorially termed the offending MP's self defense plea absurd.
Rajdeep Sardesai said this incident hit a new low in the Indian parliamentary history. When Rajagopal said on live TV many Indian women carry pepper spray, Barkha Dutt retorted she does not and he had no reason to do so. The outspoken Arnab Gowami lambasted Rajagopal calling him a "shame to parliament" to his face.
The reaction of the anti-Telangana groups was in sharp contrast to the rest of India. YSR Congress party leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy supported the action of fellow businessman Rajagopal. Several others including TDP leader Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy expressed a similar sentiment.
Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy in a long statement reiterating opposition to Telangana remained silent on Rajagopal's infamy. Nara Chandra Babu Naidu similarly failed to condemn the heinous attack. The normally mike hungry Dr. Nagabhairava Jaya Prakash Narayan continued his statement issuing spree ignoring the one issue India is most talking about.
Nalamotu Chakravarthy, an American whose anti-Telangana activism has earned him a near cult status, pointedly refused to react, stating: "Before I answer whether Lagadapati and Modugula's behavior is justified, the onus is on you folks to answer whether all the violent acts and threats of shooting down helicopters and buses not returning to Hyderabad after Sankranthi etc. over the last decades, what action should be taken?"
As far as I can verify, Kavuri Sambasiva Rao's statement that he did not support Rajagopal's act is the closest any anti-Telangana public personality came to disapproving the dastardly act. It may be noted even he did not unequivocally condemn Rajagopal.
Sections of Telugu media joined the infamy. In the immediate aftermath of the pepper spray attack, several channels ran a story purporting an alleged murder conspiracy against Rajagopal. A few others accused unnamed persons of a similar controversy against Modugula. None of these channels provided either the source or a shred of evidence for these grave allegations.
Sundry supporters of Rajagopal paid huge sums for airtime comparing to martyr Bhagat Singh. The fact that Rajagopal was not a visitor but an MP and that India is independent today seems lost on these individuals.
Except for a few honorable exceptions, Andhra cyberspace behaved in similar fashion. A few bloggers justified the pepper spray attack while several others took the plea the weapon is not lethal. An overwhelming group maintained a deafening silence.
What exactly is the deceptively named pepper pray? It is a chemical that causes tears and temporary blindness. Victims often suffer body spams, cough and running nose.
Pepper spray has been used for a long time in riot control. Of late, it is also promoted as a self defense measure weapon for women to ward off violence and undesired advances. There is no reported case of a man using pepper spray against other men.
Deborah Blum describes the potency of the so called pepper spray. Commercial grade pepper spray's burn intensity is 2-5 million Scoville units. Blum states "we’re not talking about cookery but a potent blast of chemistry". Blum quotes the paper "Health Hazards of Pepper Spray" by C. Gregory Smith and Woodhall Stopford to the effect that "Inhalation of high doses of some of these chemicals can produce adverse cardiac, respiratory, and neurologic effects, including arrhythmias and sudden death".
Vasudevan Mukunth cites Dr. Mohan Kameswaran: “In people with conditions like asthma or allergic conjunctivitis, it could worsen the condition and make it critical.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in their report on pepper spray states "there is clear evidence pepper spray poses serious risks if it is used on people with respiratory disease, especially asthma".
Chris E. McGoey, a security consultant, states "Pepper spray should be directed at the assailants face at close range either in a stream, spray, or mist and never sprayed wildly at a crowd in congested areas". He compares the pain of pepper spray victim to "two red-hot pieces of steel being pushed into your eyes and a blow-torch applied to your face".
Spartan Cops, a blog for policemen, recommends pepper spray should be avoided in confined spaces as well as large crowds.
European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in its judgment Ali Güneş v. Turkey, 2012, refers to the directives of European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT): "Pepper spray is a potentially dangerous substance and should not be used in confined spaces. Even when used in open spaces the CPT has serious reservations; if exceptionally it needs to be used, there should be clearly defined safeguards in place. For example, persons exposed to pepper spray should be granted immediate access to a medical doctor and be offered an antidote". The seven honorable judges held Turkey violated article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights and awarded Güneş a post-tax amount of EUR 10,000 (plus costs) in damages.
ECHR in Andrei Tali v. Estonia, 2014, notes "Pepper spray could have serious effects on health such as irritation of the respiratory tract and of the eyes, spasms, allergies and, if used in strong doses, pulmonary edema or internal hemorrhaging". The seven learned judges also replied on the CPT directive forbidding use of pepper spray in confined spaces.
Analysis of evidence
Sandeep Phukan's eyewitness account of Rajagopal's indiscriminate spraying is supported by Kairali News telecast. The footage does not lend credence to his claim he acted in self defense.
The footage clearly establishes the location of the attack was crowded with several MP's. The parliament hall can of course be not described as an open space by any logical individual.
Rajagopal's claim that he tried to rescue Modugula does not appear plausible. Phukan writes about the TDP MP: "He was well-built and I thought to myself that if he were to carry out a misadventure, it would not be easy for his colleagues to control him". Surely a strong man can survive for a few minutes without Rajagopal's assistance?
Rajagopal by his own admission was not attacked by anyone. He had no reason to enter a fracas under way when bringing the situation to the notice of the Speaker was the wiser option.
Section 99 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provides "There is no right of private defense in cases in which there is time to have recourse to protection of the public authorities".
Rajagopal's alleged apprehensions of personal safety are best taken with a pinch (or bucket) of salt. If his suspicions were founded on reasonable material, he should have approached the Speaker with his concerns.
Rajagopal's claim he acted in self defense falls flat against the fact his victims included the Speaker herself and MP's totally beyond reproach such as Sumitra Mahajan.
Respiratory problems including asthma are very common among Indians. Rajagopal, an MP for 10 years, could not have been unaware of his asthmatic parliamentary colleagues. Many Loksabha MP's including Sonia Gandhi are commonly believed to be asthma patients.
Lagadapati Rajagopal is an engineer, an immensely rich businessman, a second term MP and enjoys a huge clout in political, official, business & media circles. He is related by marriage to the late Parvataneni Upendra, a former union minister hailing from a powerful family. In short, he is no ordinary person.
There is no conceivable way Rajagopal could have been ignorant of the potentially lethal effects of his indiscriminate attack in a crowded confined space. It is equally impossible that he could not have foreseen the resultant widespread negative coverage of the Indian parliament across the globe.
Rajagopal's "wait and watch" threat reveals the attack to be a cold blooded premeditated attack. This is supported by his own admission he entered a fracas under way. This is a crime under section 307 of the IPC: "Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of murder".
The statements of other anti-Telangana MP's and the obvious coordination between these individuals throws another light on Rajagopal's dastardly crime. The conspirators are liable under IPC section 120 B: "Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence".
As a law abiding Indian citizen, I am outraged by the criminal act of a self seeking politician. This man is a public menace who should not be allowed to pollute the temple of Indian democracy any further.