The face-off between the government and the Opposition over the latter’s demand for an urgent discussion on price rise and the hike in GST rates escalated on Monday with Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla suspending four Congress MPs for the remaining part of the current session for “misconduct”. Accusing the government of trying to “intimidate” the Opposition, the Congress said it would “continue the fight”.
The MPs — Manickam Tagore, Ramya Haridas, T N Prathapan and S Jothimani — were named by Rajendra Agrawal, who was in the Chair, under Rule 374, for displaying placards in the House. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi then read out a motion seeking their suspension for the rest of the session, which was passed by a voice vote. The Monsoon Session ends on August 12.
While the Opposition has been demanding an immediate discussion on price rise and the hike in GST rates of essential commodities, the government has maintained that it is ready for a discussion, but it can only be held after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recovers from Covid.
When the House met at 2 pm, the Speaker said the government was ready for a discussion as demanded by the Opposition. He told the members not to display placards, saying he would be left with no option but to take action to uphold the dignity of the House. With the Opposition unrelenting, Birla repeated the warning. “I am requesting you again that it is the responsibility of the members to uphold the dignity of the House. Whosoever displays placards… I am telling you for the last time… they will not be allowed to be part of the proceedings,” he said.
Before adjourning the House till 3 pm, Birla said: “If you want to have a discussion, I am ready to start the discussion at 3 pm. But if you want to display placards and indulge in slogan shouting… then after 3 pm, you will have the right to show placards and shout slogans outside the House… this House cannot function like this. I am requesting you for the last time… those members who show placards before the Chair, who want to break the dignity of the House… after 3 pm, they will get adequate time and opportunity outside the House.”
When the House reassembled at 3 pm, the protests continued. Agarwal then invoked Rule 374 and named the members, saying they had shown “stubborn behaviour”, “deliberately and continuously disrupted proceedings” and ignored House rules and directions of the Speaker.
Joshi moved the motion which said, “That this House having taken serious note of the misconduct of Manickam Tagore, T N Prathapan, S Jothimani and Ramya Haridas and utter disregard to the House and the authority of the Chair and having been named by the Speaker resolve that the above mentioned members be suspended from the service of the House for the reminder of the session under Rule 374(2)”.
According to Rule 374, “The Speaker may, if deems it necessary, name a member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business thereof.” Rule 374 (2) says “if a member is so named by the Speaker, the Speaker shall, on a motion being made forthwith put the question that the member (naming such member) be suspended from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session.”
The Congress said the action against the MPs was a “blot on democracy” and accused the government of trying to “intimidate” the Opposition for raising people’s issues.
“We have only two demands: withdrawal of GST on essential commodities and a discussion on price rise. We have been demanding this for the last six days. We have been giving adjournment notices every day but the government is not relenting. There is no unruly behaviour by us. We did not hurt the dignity or decorum of the House. It is our right to protest when the government doesn’t listen to our legitimate demand for a discussion on the hardships faced by the people,” Jothimani told The Indian Express.
The government, she said, is afraid of holding a discussion. “The government says let Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman return, and they will hold a discussion. Remember it was Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who replied to a discussion on the farm laws. And it was the late Arun Jaitley who replied to a discussion on the Rafale issue. He was the Finance Minister then and Sitharaman was the Defence Minister,” she said.
“So all these are excuses to avoid a discussion. Why can’t the Prime Minister come to the House. He is the head of the government. He can listen to the discussion and answer. It is our legitimate right to seek a discussion in Parliament. This government thinks they can scare us by suspending us. That is not going to happen. We will continue our fight. If raising the issues of people on the floor of Parliament is a crime, we will commit that crime again and again,” she added.
Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the government was resorting to suspension to throttle the voices of the Opposition. “I must appreciate the moral rectitude and intrepidity of those suspended members, and will double-down our efforts to expose the anti-people policies of this government,” he said.
Coming out in support of the MPs, BSP leader Danish Ali tweeted: “How unfortunate is that, two young women MPs from weaker sections (Haridas and Jothimani) have been suspended from Lok Sabha just for demanding a discussion on price rise, the very same day when a woman from an oppressed class took oath as the President of India.”
– With Avishek G Dastidar, New Delhi