There was no let-up in the Opposition’s pressure on the Government in Parliament Wednesday seeking a structured discussion in both Houses on the Pegasus affair. The standoff disrupted both Houses even as the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Thursday a clutch of petitions demanding a court-monitored investigation into the alleged potential targeting of activists, politicians and journalists using the spyware developed by an Israeli firm.
As the Opposition parties intensified their blockade of Parliament on Pegasus and the farmers’ protests, six MPs of the Trinamool Congress, Dola Sen, Md. Nadimul Haque, Abir Ranjan Biswas, Shanta Chhetri, Arpita Ghosh and Mausam Noor, were “named” and directed to withdraw from Rajya Sabha by Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu. In the din, the Government passed five Bills — three in Rajya Sabha and two in Lok Sabha.
The action against the TMC members only cemented Opposition unity. Soon after the MPs were directed to withdraw from the House, 15 Opposition parties issued a joint statement saying they “stand firm and united” on their demand for a discussion on the Pegasus issue followed by a debate on the farmers’ protests and asserted “the responsibility for the deadlock lies squarely at the doorsteps of the Government.”
The political standoff comes a day before the hearing in the Supreme Court on five petitions seeking a probe into the Pegasus revelations. These include those filed by senior journalists N Ram and Shashi Kumar; advocate M L Sharma; CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas; journalists — Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, S N M Abidi, Prem Shankar Jha, Rupesh Kumar Singh and Ipsa Satakshi — whose names allegedly figure in the list of potential targets, and a fifth by the Editors Guild of India. Ram and Kumar have sought a probe by a sitting or former judge of the SC into the allegations.
There was clamour in the Rajya Sabha as soon as it met. Amid slogan-shouting by Opposition members, Naidu said the Government has expressed its willingness to discuss the farmers’ issue, the economic situation, price rise and other issues. With Opposition members not yielding, he said: “All these Members who are in the Well of the House with placards, all of them are named…Under Rule 255, I direct these Members, who are in the Well of the House, to go back to their seats…
Otherwise, you are named and you are suspended for the day.”
Soon the Rajya Sabha Secretariat issued a bulletin naming the MPs and saying the members “who entered in the well of the House, displayed placards, disobeyed the Chair and whose conduct was grossly disorderly in the House this morning have been directed to withdraw immediately from the Council under Rule 255 by the Chairman.”
“Accordingly, these Members shall absent themselves during the remainder of the day’s meeting,” it said.
Some Opposition leaders alleged that this action against the TMC MPs was an attempt to divide them. “Desperate BJP trying to divide opposition in Parliament. Good try. But you failed,” tweeted its Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien.
Subsequently, the Opposition parties met and issued a joint statement. Significantly, the Aam Aadmi Party, which had skipped a breakfast hosted by senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi Tuesday was also a signatory.
“The Opposition Parties stand firm and united on their demand for a discussion on the Pegasus issue in both the Houses, replied to by the Home Minister, as this has national security dimensions,” the statement said. “The Opposition has also unequivocally conveyed that the discussion on the farmers’ issues and agitations arising from the three anti-farmers and black agri-laws should follow the discussion on Pegasus.”
“The responsibility for the deadlock lies squarely at the doorsteps of the government, which remains arrogant and obdurate and refuses to accept the Opposition’s demand for an informed debate in both the houses,” the statement said.
The signatories include Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge; Congress’s Anand Sharma; NCP’s Sharad Pawar; DMK’s T R Baalu and Tiruchi Siva; SP’s Ramgopal Yadav; O’Brien; Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, RJD’s Manoj Jha; Elamaram Kareem of the CPM, Sushil Gupta (AAP), and N K Premachandran of the RSP.
Similar scenes of disruption were witnessed in Lok Sabha. In the din, Rajya Sabha passed the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Limited Liability Partnership (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2021 after a brief discussion.
The Lok Sabha passed the Coconut Development Board (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021.
With inputs from Ananthakrishnan G at the end
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