At least 50 Congress MLAs were suspended and marshalled out of the Gujarat assembly on Tuesday, after they disrupted House proceedings over the flogging of Dalits by gau rakshaks for skinning dead cows in Una last month and the deaths of three members of the community during police firing in Thangadh four years ago.
Dissatisfied with the BJP government’s response to their demands for investigations by a sitting judge of the high court in the Una episode and the CBI in the 2012 Thangadh killings, Congress MLAs launched a protest wearing aprons with slogans on them accusing the ruling party of not being able to protect Dalits’ rights.
The MLAs also rushed to the well of the House and threw bangles at the Treasury benches.
Outside the Assembly, Congress workers took out a ‘Jan Aakrosh Rally’ to protest the “oppression” of the BJP government and tried to storm the secretariat, even as security guards locked all five entry gates to the premises. Inside the House, the Opposition MLAs created a ruckus during a discussion on the law-and-order situation with reference to the August 15 rally by Dalits in Una, which was followed by attacks on members of the community.
Congress MLAs Raghavji Patel, Shailesh Parmar, Manilal Vaghela and Shaktisinh Gohil accused the BJP government of failing to perform its duty in Una and Thangadh.
Vaghela alleged that the Una episode was a result of internal fighting within the BJP, and a “pre-planned conspiracy by certain quarters within the ruling party to disturb the government (led at the time by Anandiben Patel)”.
He also wanted the government to make public the official report on the Thangadh killings prepared by Sanjay Prasad, the then principal secretary of the social justice and empowerment department.
Refuting the Opposition’s allegations, Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja cited steps taken by the government in the Una episode, including the arrests of 36 people and the statements of 10 witnesses having been recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
He said that following the August 15 rally in Una, the administration was vigilant and that seven police officers, including a DySP and a police inspector, were injured while controlling mobs. Jadeja stated that the investigation was still on in the case.
Jadeja also said that immediate help was provided after the flogging incident and during the attack on Dalits near Samter village. At this point, Congress MLA Parmar demanded a judicial inquiry by a high court judge in the Una incident. Responding to this, Jadeja said the Thangadh report was under consideration, and that government had a formed a Special Investigation Team to investigate the Una incident.
Opposition MLAs then started raising slogans, with senior Congress leader Gohil saying that the government’s seriousness would have been evident if the Chief Minister instead of a Minister of State had made a statement in the House on such an “important and sensitive” issue. This was objected to by Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel leading to a heated spat between the two.
Eventually, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said that his government was committed to ensuring dignity for Dalits and that no such atrocity was committed in future.
The Opposition, however, sought a specific assurance from Rupani on their demands before rushing to the well of the House amid constant warnings by newly elected Speaker Ramanlal Vora. Vora alleged that the Opposition did not seem concerned over the Dalits’ issue but was merely trying to garner political mileage.
It was then that the Congress MLAs, except Shankersinh Vaghela and Mohansinh Rathwa, rushed to the well with placards with some of them throwing the bangles. The Speaker then ordered marshals to evict the protesting MLAs before suspending them for the day. Vaghela and Rathva subsequently walked out in protest.