Updated: November 30, 2021 3:57:12 am
In a move that angered the Opposition and set the stage for acrimonious exchanges, a dozen members of Opposition parties in Rajya Sabha were suspended from the winter session on the very first day following a motion brought in by the government.
The members were suspended for alleged unruly conduct towards the end of the monsoon session in August when marshals were called after Opposition members stormed the Well of the House during the passage of the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill, 2021.
The suspended members comprise six from the Congress, two each from Trinamool Congress and Shiv Sena, and one each from CPI and CPM: Phulo Devi Netam, Chhaya Verma, Ripun Bora, Rajamani Patel, Syed Nasir Hussain and Akhilesh Prasad Singh of Congress; Dola Sen, Shanta Chhetri of Trinamool Congress; Priyanka Chaturvedi, Anil Desai of Shiv Sena; Elamaram Kareem of CPM; and, Binoy Viswam of CPI.
The motion, moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, was passed by voice vote even as the Opposition protested.
Calling it “undemocratic” and “unprecedented”, Opposition parties said their floor leaders will hold a joint meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the issue.
The members were suspended for the rest of the winter session under Rule 256 of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Rajya Sabha. The rule has been used 13 times in the past to suspend 26 members (some multiple times) since 1962. Membership of two Parliamentarians was terminated under the same rule in 2010.
Reading the motion, Joshi said “this House takes cognizance and strongly condemns the utter disregard to the authority of the Chair, complete abuse of the rules of the House persistently, thereby wilfully obstructing the business of the House through their unprecedented acts of misconduct, contemptuous, unruly and violent behaviour and intentional attacks on security personnel on the last day of the 254th session… thereby lowering the dignity of and bringing disrepute to this august House.”
Rarely used rule
Rule 256 from Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in RS was invoked against the MPs. The Opposition said the rule is for ongoing session, not to be used in an earlier one. In 6 decades, it has been used 13 times
Responding to the suspension, 14 Opposition parties issued a joint statement which was not signed by Trinamool Congress, to whom two of the suspended members belong. The joint statement said leaders of the Opposition parties “unitedly condemn the unwarranted and undemocratic suspension of 12 members in violation of all the Rules of Procedure of Rajya Sabha pertaining to suspension of members for the entire duration of the Winter Session”.
“The motion moved by the Government for suspending the members in regard to the unfortunate incident that occurred in the previous session is unprecedented and violates the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha). The floor leaders of Opposition parties of Rajya Sabha will meet tomorrow to deliberate on the future course of action to resist the authoritarian decision of the Government and defend Parliamentary democracy.”
Asked why his party was not a signatory to the joint statement, Sukhendu Shekhar Roy of Trinamool Congress said: “Neither did they consult us before issuing the statement, nor did we reach out to them.”
His colleague Dola Sen, who was suspended even in September 2020 for “unruly behaviour during the passage of farm laws”, said the government will not be able to “silence dissenting voices through suspensions”.
“We are becoming used to such suspensions. This is complete lawlessness. It’s very unfortunate and undemocratic. They are trying to undermine our voices but they won’t be able to do so, come what may. We feel proud since we have been suspended for standing with farmers and the marginalised,” she said.
Shanta Chhetri said: “While we were protesting that day, I felt unwell, became nearly unconscious, and was rushed to RML Hospital. And today, they ended up suspending us without even giving us a chance to keep our version. Even the motion to suspend us was brought without any consultation. This is our punishment for raising issues that affect the masses, be it farm Bills or Pegasus.”
Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi said: “We were not informed… Neither was my version taken as to what had happened… even criminals are allowed to give their versions… If speaking for the people of this country is unruly for this government, I am willing to do it a thousand times over”.
She said Rule 256 is only applicable for an ongoing session, and cannot be rolled over to the next session. “Rules have been flouted and Parliamentary procedures and set laws are being overlooked to suppress the voice of the Opposition,” she said.
While Akhilesh Prasad Singh of Congress called the suspension “unfortunate and undemocratic”, his party colleague Syed Nasir Hussain said “the government is throttling the voices of dissent in Parliament.”
“Today they repealed the three farm laws. And when the same laws were placed for discussion in Rajya Sabha, we had opposed and protested. They suspended eight of us at that time. That suspension and that protest actually kickstarted the agitation against the farm laws across the country. After 14 months, the government very painfully had to repeal the laws. They had to bow down. So, they didn’t know what to do now. Perhaps they wanted to have their way also. That is why they suspended us. But this action will not scare the Opposition,” Hussain said.
Bora said: “We had opposed the farm laws… Farmers across the country were agitating. The government had no option but to withdraw the laws. Out of that frustration, they have suspended us. It is nothing but political vindictiveness. It is murder of democracy. They had not given us any opportunity to be heard. They had not discussed this with the Opposition leaders. It will not help the BJP in the long run… They will have to pay a heavy price for this in 2024,” he said.
Patel said: “If they had to suspend us… they should have done it in the last session. How can you suspend an MP for something which happened in the previous session? This is unconstitutional, illegal and unprecedented. This is being done to hide the government’s embarrassment on the farm laws,” he said.
Verma said: “Some of the members who climbed onto the table and tore files were not suspended… They did not even give us a chance to speak. The suspension was announced and the House was adjourned. This is dictatorial.”
Viswam said: “The suspension of the 12 MPs is being used to crush dissent and prevent representatives of the people from raising issues that concern the very core of the Indian citizenry and our nation. If the government believes that such a suspension will deter us from continuing to raise these issues, it is going to be sadly disappointed as there is absolutely no question of succumbing to such draconian actions.”
Kareem said the disciplinary action has no justification. “There is no precedent or practice of taking action against a member for something which had happened in the previous session. They did not hear our side before taking the action. And today there was no discussion on the repeal Bill. This government is fast becoming autocratic,” he said.
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