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Delhi ducks Mallya query on US, NE

Delhi ducks Mallya query on US, NE

Author: Seema Mustafa
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: December 16, 2004

"Is the government aware that the government of the United States of America has circulated a document earlier which seeks to alienate the north-eastern region from the country?" The question by Dr Vijay Mallya was listed for discussion in Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, but was suddenly pulled out of the list of starred questions and placed in the unstarred category.

Why? Because it exceeded the 100-word limit by 24 words. Or so was the official explanation. When contacted, Dr Mallya said that after being told that the question had been struck off the starred list, he had counted the words and that they amounted to only 78 words.

The technicality has ensured that the question seeking an answer from the external affairs minister on the United States' role in the Northeast will not be discussed in the House. Four other MPs, Mr Rajeev Shukla, Mr Tariq Anwar, Mr Rajkumar Dhoot and Mr Gireesh Kumar Sanghi, were listed to ask supplementaries that would have ensured a fairly substantive discussion on the issue in the Rajya Sabha. Sources said the ministries of home and external affairs were not very happy with the question, deeming it to be "too sensitive" for a detailed discussion in the House.

Dr Mallya's question had four parts. One, "whether it was a fact that the US ambassador had recently offered the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the serial blasts in the north-eastern states." Reports of this have been carried by the media. Two, whether a similar offer had been received from European countries. Three, whether the government was aware about the US document on the Northeast. And four, whether the government has taken a view of this offer of assistance keeping in view the security of the country.

The MP had asked for details, and as per the rules of Question Hour, would have been allowed two supplementaries following the minister's reply. This would then have been followed by four more questions from the other MPs on this controversial issue of US interest, and possible intervention, in the north-eastern region. The official explanation, citing the technicality of the word limit, was forthcoming only on Wednesday. In the unstarred list, the question will be treated summarily with a written response from the government. This will leave no room for further questions and will also, in all likelihood, remain out of the public eye. This is largely because the media does not pick up unstarred questions for reporting, more so as the government's replies are typically very brief and without any details.

One of the MPs listed for the supplementary did not even have an idea that the question had been dropped from the starred list. When asked about this, he said, "I did not even know. I will find out tomorrow what has happened." He was also of the view that the official reason for striking the question off the starred list was "very strange". He said that the 100-word limit was intended as a guideline so that MPs did not place unnecessarily lengthy questions, but that it was strange that a question was removed just because they thought it contained 24 extra words.

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