December 12, 2021

Suspension of Opposition MPs in Rajya Sabha: Assault on Parliamentary Democracy

Elamaram Kareem

THE ruling BJP and its allies are trying to undermine the very democratic system of our nation by taking away the rights of parliamentarians. The last monsoon session saw some of the most humiliating days for our democracy. The ongoing winter session is witnessing an even worse phase. Listening to the opposition is unavoidable in democracy. But the BJP is trying how not to answer the questions posed by the opposition, and how to silence the MPs asking questions. Since the commencement of the monsoon session on July 19, 2021, the opposition demanded discussion on three main issues – the farmers’ protest, price rise and the Pegasus issue. No matter how many times the opposition raised the demand for discussion on these important issues, the government did not consider its requests. They had gone to the extent of switching off the microphones of MPs who utter any of these words inside the house.

This winter session is considered to be one of the most crucial as it came after the BJP government’s humiliating surrender before the historic farmers’ protest. The BJP got cornered in a never before manner and they have lost their face in front of the people. Even though the government decided to repeal the farm laws fearing the consequences it may have to face in the upcoming state elections, most of the other demands raised by the protesting farmers remain unanswered. A discussion on these issues would further worsen the BJP’s ugly face and they will have to stand in front of the people with nothing to defend their stand. So, they rejected the demands raised by the opposition and pushed the Farm Laws Repeal Bill on the first day of the session itself and passed it without any discussion. In Rajya Sabha, after it passed the repeal bill, the chairman invited the parliamentary affairs minister for introducing a motion to suspend some MPs. The minister introduced that motion and announced the suspension of 12 MPs from Rajya Sabha for the remaining period of this winter session (255th). This action was taken on account of the incidents during the last day of the previous session.

During the last day of the 254th session, on August 11, 2021, opposition MPs protested inside the house when the government tried to bulldoze the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill without allowing voting on the motions moved for referring that bill to a select committee. From the beginning of the monsoon session, majority of the political parties in Rajya Sabha had demanded for referring this bill to a select committee for wider consultation and scrutiny. The proceedings of the house were disrupted on August 11 as the government outrightly rejected this demand and proceeded with the passage of the bill. The chair also acted in a partisan manner denying the rights of members from asking division and voting. This had led to the protest by members and sloganeering. It was never a violent struggle to physically harm any person inside the chamber. When these facts are there in the public domain, the BJP is continuing with its fake propaganda blaming the opposition for disrupting the house.

Twelve MPs – myself, Binoy Viswam (CPI), Phulo Devi Netam, Chhaya Verma, Ripun Bora, Rajmani Patel, Syed Nasir Hussain, Akhilesh Prasad Singh (INC), Dola Sen, Shanta Chhetri (TMC), Priyanka Chaturvedi, Anil Desai (Shiv Sena) – were suspended in an unlawful manner for the entire session. The government says that this action is based on the report of an enquiry committee. But the enquiry committee has never met the opposition. As soon as the previous session concluded, I had lodged a complaint against the security personnel who attacked the MPs. No action has been taken on that complaint.

The Modi government, which has lost its face in front of the people, has announced the suspension as a ploy to cover up the rift. As soon as the announcement of suspension, we decided to stage a dharna in front of the Gandhi statue till the government revokes the suspension. It is decided that the opposition will raise this demand inside the house and we will protest outside. This dharna is continuing till date. This has put the government under pressure. The government who initially said the suspension will only be revoked if all of us tender apology is now saying that they will not revoke it even if we regret the happenings of August 11. But the apology or regret should come from those who have committed mistake. Here, it is the government who committed it. So, it is the government who should apologise to the people. 

This suspension of 12 MPs from Rajya Sabha is unprecedented, unconstitutional and blatant violation of the rules of procedure and conventions. It is unruly that a suspension action is being taken up in a session for an incident that happened in the previous session. Rajya Sabha being a continuous entity which is not subject to dissolution or expiry, each of the sessions of Rajya Sabha which are summoned by the president of India is prorogued by him after the chairman of the house adjourns it sine die – which means, all the affairs of a particular session get completed after the president prorogues it. So, it is completely nonsensical to take disciplinary action against the MPs on an issue that happened in a session which was prorogued by the president of India many months ago. Not only that, the motion which the parliamentary affairs minister introduced for our suspension says that we are suspended “from the service of the house for the reminder of the 255th Session under rule 256 of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha)”. According to rule 256, the chairman should name the member if he/she is to be suspended for obstructing the business in Rajya Sabha. That did not happen in this case. None of us were named by the chair on August 11 or on the day of the introduction of the suspension motion. Even if the chair didn’t verbally name a member, the names of such MPs should be mentioned in the Rajya Sabha records for gross violation of rules or obstruction of proceedings. Here, names of 33 MPs were published in the bulletin, which is the brief record of the proceedings of the meeting of the Rajya Sabha held on the August 11, 2021, for “gross disorderly conduct in violation of the rules and etiquette of Rajya Sabha”. It says that these 33 MPs “entered the ‘Well’ of the House, displayed placards, shouted slogans and persistently and willfully obstructed the proceedings of the House”. But my name was not there in the list of 33 MPs, which means that the government intentionally picked and chose the name of CPI(M) floor leader in Rajya Sabha for suspension. It clearly proves how much the government fears the presence of Left MPs who are taking a lead role in unifying the entire opposition and rallying them against the anti-people policies of the government. This suspension is actually a recognition for the Left’s efforts in building a unified opposition against the BJP. 

The suspension of 12 MPs for the entire session raises so many other questions also. At present, the NDA and friendly parties have 120 MPs in the house of 245, including six vacancies, while the opposition parties count for 104. BJD has nine MPs and the YSR Congress has six. Technically, the BJP could cross the majority-mark in the house, if it can count on the support of one of the two independents and the TDP’s one MP. However, TRS and YSR Congress, which have given constructive support to bills when the government was in trouble, are having adverse relations with the BJP for some time. TRS has openly come out against the BJP in Telangana while YSR Congress has shed its inhibition to attack the BJP on state-related issues. Along with TRS and YSR Congress, if the BJD also decides to join hands with the opposition, then it could spell trouble for the ruling party in the upper house, especially when there are absentees on its side. In such a scenario, the opposition numbers could rise to 119. But with the suspension of 12 MPs from the opposition side, the BJP is comfortably placed with controversial bills likely to come in the coming days. Several parties have reservations about the bills to replace some ordinances as well as many other new bills listed for this winter session. 

The BJP government is turning parliament into a hotbed of democratic destruction. The cowardice of the BJP and its intolerance on criticisms and debates are being exposed day by day. The BJP has once again proved that its policy is not conducive to a democratic society by expelling 12 MPs who protested against the bulldozing of anti-people legislations by not allowing debates. It is unfortunate that the constitution and the rules of the house are being trampled in this way. The opposition has been trying to oppose the anti-people policies of the central government and to respond to it in accordance with the house proceedings. What should MPs do when even that is not allowed? In these circumstances we should further intensify our protests against the onslaught on democracy. This suspension is also an opportunity to expose the anti-democratic face of the BJP-led fascistic regime.