That 25 of 44 Congress MPs stand suspended from the Lok Sabha since Monday, that the doors of the House of the People have been closed for five days to more than half of the main opposition party, is a dispiriting scenario for parliamentary democracy. Whatever the provocation — and to be sure, a placard-waving Congress bent on disrupting proceedings may have offered reasons to take offence — Speaker Sumitra Mahajan’s decision can be seen to be excessively harsh on the Opposition. This, after all, is a House that is, in any case, overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling party, and in which, therefore, the Opposition needs the speaker’s indulgence, even protection, to speak and to be heard. This is a time, moreover, when the government is confronting serious allegations of impropriety against its ministers and is, by all accounts, trying to brazen it out. In a House and in a moment such as this one, the speaker’s severe decision intolerably reduces the room for manoeuvre for an Opposition already hobbled by its paltry numbers — and diverts attention, in fact, from the Opposition’s own misconduct.
For now, the speaker’s heavy-handed punishment has also had some unintended consequences. It has forged a unity that has been missing in the Opposition ranks. The Congress’s call for a boycott of the Lok Sabha has found echoes even in parties that have distanced themselves from it on specific issues in the recent past. The Trinamool Congress, for instance, has pointedly disagreed with the Congress on the GST bill, on which it has backed the Narendra Modi government, but has expressed solidarity with the Congress after the suspension of its MPs. The BJD, which has also expressed its differences with the Congress on several bills, has asked the speaker to reconsider her decision. And the Congress has found a victimhood it can nurse, and a grievance to take to the “street”.
This is a time, above all, for the Modi government to make a new move. It must persuade the speaker to revoke the suspensions — not just because of its own vulnerable position in the Rajya Sabha, but also to make an attempt to dispel the impression that it is uncomfortable with, if not downright intolerant of, its critics. Were it to prevail upon the speaker to let the Congress MPs back into the House now, it might well be the peace offering that softens the hardening perceptions of its own arrogance and implacability.