Dipankar Bhattacharya,
General Secretary, CPI(ML) Liberation

On the twenty-second anniversary of the December 13, 2001 terror strike on India’s Parliament, the new parliament building witnessed a stunning smoke scare. A young man, identified as Sagar Sharma from Lucknow, suddenly jumped from the visitor’s gallery and opened a yellow smoke canister leaping across tables before being overpowered and handed over to the police by parliamentarians even as the zero hour was underway. Sagar had a companion, D Manoranjan from Mysuru, who too opened another smoke canister spraying yellow gas remaining seated on the visitor’s gallery.

A few minutes earlier, two other young persons, Neelam Devi from Hisar, Haryana and Amol Shinde from Latur, Maharashtra, had burst red and yellow smoke canisters outside the building and raised slogans against unemployment and atrocities on women, hailing the motherland and denouncing dictatorship. Two more persons have been named involved in this smoke canister episode – Lalit Jha, at whose Gurgaon home the group stayed before undertaking the operation, and Vicky Sharma, also from Gurgaon. Manoranjan and Sagar Sharma had secured visitor’s passes at the recommendation of Pratap Simha, BJP MP from Mysuru since 2014. Manoranjan is known to be an engineering graduate who used to help his father with their family farming. Neelam is said to have been preparing for Haryana state civil services.

On the face of it, the smoke canister episode seems designed to invoke memories of the historic Central Assembly bombing by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt on 8 April 1929. Just as Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt wanted to draw the people’s attention to the injustices of British rule, Neelam, Manoranjan and their companions ostensibly tried to protest against raging unemployment in today’s India. But why would protesters choose the anniversary of a terrorist attack on Parliament to make their point?

What the smoke scare has anyway exposed is a major breach in Parliament security. There has been a lot of talk about the tight security system of the new parliament building. Given this, the entry of smoke canisters into the building inevitably raises serious questions. It is a matter of great relief that Sagar and Manoranjan who breached the security had no intention of causing any harm and carried only coloured smoke to make their point. For the Godi media, the smoke canister episode became yet another occasion to indulge in competitive sensationalism, with reporters literally jostling among themselves to grab the canister as a propaganda war trophy.

It is not difficult to imagine what the media reaction would have been like had the visitor’s passes been obtained using a recommendation from some opposition MP or if the group of six included any Muslim name. Surely, the media would have lost no time discovering some major terrorist conspiracy, maybe even some act of ‘jihad’ attributed to Hamas. Even now we see an orchestrated media campaign and BJP IT cell propaganda to use the smoke canister episode to discredit the farmers’ movement.

The Modi government surely owes an urgent explanation to the people about the entire episode and the questions it has raised. An opposition MP has just been expelled allegedly for jeopardising national security by sharing her parliamentary login ID, another MP has been admonished for publicly commenting on the Ethics Committee proceedings. What happens now to a BJP MP for recommending the entry of visitors who caused a smoke scare right inside the Lok Sabha?

History tells us how the Reichstag fire was used by Hitler in consolidating his rule and unleashing the horror of Nazi Germany. The Reichstag fire, later exposed as a state-sponsored false flag operation, was attributed to communist agitators and mass arrests of communists and trade unionists followed. Democratic India must make sure that the smoke canister episode cannot be used in a similar manner to further suppress people’s movements in India.