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Thursday, September 23, 2021

‘BJP should not behave like a democratic saint…look at your record in Oppn’: Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury talks to The Indian Express about disruptions in Parliament and the row over the Pegasus spyware case.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: July 31, 2021 1:37:15 pm
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury: “What is happening is that Bills are being passed without any discussion now because of which the opposition's views on Bills are neither articulated nor reflected.”

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury talks to The Indian Express about disruptions in Parliament and the row over the Pegasus spyware case.

Parliament has been disrupted for two weeks. When will this impasse end?

Transaction of business in the House is incumbent on the government. They have to pass Bills. The Opposition’s role is to participate in legislative activities, express their disapproval or otherwise, raise issues of people’s concern and take part in debate and discussions. The onus is on the government to run the House.

What is happening is that Bills are being passed without any discussion now because of which the opposition’s views on Bills are neither articulated nor reflected. Bills are being bulldozed. Yes, we have made certain demands. It is our legitimate right. We are using all legitimate instruments… following all established practices to press our demand for a discussion on the Pegasus scandal in the presence of either the Prime Minister or the Home Minister.

The government is saying that the Opposition is running away from Parliament.

We had made it clear to the government at the all-party meeting itself that we are ready to participate in each and every issue. We are not ministers sitting in Delhi. We come from far-flung areas. We are not going to Parliament everyday to have a feel of the House. We are going to Parliament to raise issues which concern the people and identify and point out to the government deficiencies and lacunae in its functioning.

The Opposition’s role is to caution the government when it goes wrong. I have told the Speaker (Om Birla) too that…. had the Opposition not cooperated in the previous sessions how would the productivity of the House have gone up. We have sat till midnight to pass Bills. If the productivity has gone up in session after session, especially since 2019, it is because of cooperation of the Opposition. If we can sit till midnight… how can you say we are not willing to run Parliament?

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said the Opposition is demanding a discussion on a “non-issue”.

When the entire world is discussing this… how can it be a non-issue? India’s name is taken everywhere. French President Emmanuel Macron had called a national security meeting to discuss the Pegasus spyware issue. He had spoken to the Israel Prime Minister too. In Hungary, there are demands for resignations of ministers. And our government is saying it is a non-issue. Why is there total silence in our country?

The silence of the government and its unwillingness to discuss the issue is raising questions on its credibility. If the government thinks the reports are wrong…then why is it not bringing a privilege or filing a case against the 17 media houses which collaborated on the Pegasus project? You threaten Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook… (you) bring a Bill against them because you believe some people are using these platforms against the Government. You arrest people for even launching an agitation against the Government under National Security Act and slap sedition charges on them.

The government which is sensitive against criticism… why has it become so impervious… why are (you) not saying a word against these media houses? Because there is truth in the reports. Why didn’t you proactively say the Indian government or its agencies have not used Pegasus spyware? The matter would have ended there. The government is provoking us.

But because of this imbroglio, isn’t the Opposition losing a chance to discuss and corner the government on issues like Covid management, farm laws and price rise?

Before the start of the Monsoon Session, we had demanded discussions on Covid management, farmers’ protests and fuel price hike. The government then asked us to whittle it down to two issues. The two issues were Covid and farmers’ protest. We had insisted that price rise should also be discussed. Then the Pegasus revelations came.

When India’s national security itself has come under threat, democracy has come under strain…privacy of citizens are encroached upon…from judiciary to Army, intelligence, politicians, activists and journalists…everyone was snooped upon….then why is the government, which had said that it was ready for a discussion on every issue and face tough questions from us….is afraid of a debate? If it is a non-issue then why shy away from a debate? If it was a non-issue then why did the IT Minister come out with a statement? The statement was made in such a hurry that even copies of the speech were not circulated to members. They thought they could get away by giving an unconvincing statement.

But what about other issues?

They are trying to dilute the Pegasus issue by positioning other issues in front of it. When India’s fundamental foundations are under attack…then the institutions are under attack….then that becomes the most important issue. All the other issues are important…but we feel this issue should be discussed first followed by other issues.

Start with Pegasus. How can the Government ignore the entire opposition? And how can this government act like a democratic saint? What is their record when they were in the opposition? The late Arun Jaitley used to say that disruption of Parliament is also an integral part of Parliamentary democracy. The BJP leaders have forgotten all these.

But Bills are being introduced and passed in the din. So your protests do not seem to affect the legislative agenda of the government.

Yes, they are bulldozing. That shows the government’s intent. They don’t want to listen to the voice of the Opposition, which is alarming for Parliamentary democracy.

What about the conduct of opposition MPs…tearing papers…

Yes, it happened one day. The entire Opposition was in the Well, shouting slogans. But turning a blind eye to them…the business was being conducted in the din. The Speaker left after a while. Even after an hour, the House continued to run…so our MPs became impatient. It was wrong. But it happened only on that particular day. Had the Chair listened to us…it would not have happened.

I told the Speaker that I am not happy..I am sad it happened….but the big question is how can you ignore the Opposition voice and run the House.

How do you see senior officials of three ministries not turning up at a meeting of the IT standing committee meeting?

It is unprecedented and outrageous in nature. It is nothing but a direct affront on democratic institutions. A standing committee is nothing but a mini-parliament. The officials of the department concerned…were directed by the ruling dispensation that you need not attend the meeting of the standing committee headed by an opposition MP. It strikes at the very root of democratic institutions. You are also depriving the MPs of discharging their legitimate responsibility by providing inputs in the standing committee…

What is the way out now?

Everything depends upon the wisdom of the Government. We are ready to have discussions with the government to find a way out. So far, no one from the government side has made any attempt to diffuse the situation or break the ice. We have been expecting an overture from the government…but this government is so stubborn that till today…none of us have been invited for a deliberation to sort out the issue.

The government should shun its obduracy and obstinacy…as it does not behove a ruling regime. It is the responsibility of the government which is in majority to extend an olive branch to the opposition which is in minority. We are ready to cooperate with the government for the sake of the common people who have sent us to Parliament and who are facing grave economic distress.

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