Guy Fawkes, gunpowder farces

When walls of the temple of democracy are breached, billions have a right to know

On the evening of November 4, 1606, King James I’s guards searched the cellars of his parliament house, and arrested Guy Fawkes who was hiding with a lantern, matches, touchwood and barrels of gunpowder that would have blown up the building, the king and the lords at parliament’s opening the following day. No blood was shed—blue, red, noble or menial.

India, too, has had its gunpowder day. On December 13, 2001, five men blasted into our Parliament house with machine guns in their hands and murder on their minds. Spraying bullets and blood all around, they raced towards the chambers with an intent to kill the ministers and members, before they were gunned down.

England remembers the event that took place five centuries ago though no lives were lost. To this day, they have a Guy Fawkes Day on which they burst crackers and children sing a rhyme:

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Though nearer in time and bloodier, India’s gunpowder day has been clouded out from our collective memory. Nothing else explains the farce that took place on its 22nd anniversary. Two crackpots, with little resources at their command for plotting perdition, walked unchallenged into the parliamentary galleries with smoke canisters in their shoes, and jumped into the chamber, while two others created a distraction with a Punch-and-Judy show in the town square outside.

All the four johnnies were caught with ease, but the ease with which they had walked into the house and created mayhem raised several eyebrows. How did they walk in unchallenged? How did a ruling party member sign their passes? How secure is the new Parliament house? Who sent them? What will the state and its sleuths do to get to the bottom of the plot? Is there a fabled foreign hand which we discover behind virtually every country bomb blast in the country?

Parliament sought answers, for two reasons. One, sitting in the houses were the people’s representatives who had been sent there to ask questions. Two, it was their lives that had been at stake in the whole farce.

No replies came from the regime. Instead, statements were made elsewhere disregarding a convention that such statements are not to be made outside when the houses are in session. As agitated members, feeling insulted after being nearly injured, created pandemonium, there took place what may go down in parliamentary history as a regulated re-enactment of Pride’s Purge. Pride’s Purge, if you don’t know, was a notorious event in the English parliament in 1648 when Thomas Pride got removed members who were opposed to his cause.

Hon’ble speaker sir, and chairman, sir! Let’s not follow the purgatorial path of Pride. When the walls of the temple of democracy are breached, the pujaris and the archakas inside, and the billion believers outside, have a right to know.

King James and Atal Bihari Vajpayee recognised that right. The address by the king the next day ensured the survival of the regime in England; the assurance by Atalji’s home minister L.K. Advani triggered a national mobilisation to combat the evil of terror, politically and militarily.

In both cases, the rule of law prevailed; democracy survived; and people’s will triumphed.