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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Rajya Sabha ruckus: Opposition rejects inquiry panel, says bid to ‘intimidate’

Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge wrote to M Venkaiah Naidu saying the constitution of the committee seems to be “designed” to “intimidate” MPs into silence.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: September 10, 2021 7:24:20 am
Majority of the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session of the parliament were hit by protests by Opposition parites. (FIle Photo)

The Congress and other Opposition parties have decided not to be part of an inquiry committee that Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu wants to set up to investigate the acrimonious scenes that were witnessed on August 11 in the House during the passage of the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill.

Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge wrote to Naidu Thursday saying the constitution of the committee seems to be “designed” to “intimidate” MPs into silence.

Sources said all the major Opposition parties — among them the Trinamool Congress, CPM, CPI, RJD, Shiv Sena, NCP and Aam Aadmi Party — have decided the same.

After the unruly scenes, the Opposition parties had alleged that “outsiders” who were not part of “Parliament security” were brought into the Upper House to “manhandle” MPs, including women members, during the passage of the Bill, and had argued that what had happened in the House was “unprecedented” and was akin to “martial law” being imposed in Parliament.

Several Union ministers, in turn, had met Naidu and demanded action against some of the Opposition MPs for what they called unprecedented, extreme and violent acts in the House on August 11.

Naidu, sources said, spoke to Kharge earlier this week and proposed to constitute the inquiry committee and asked Kharge to nominate a Congress MP to the panel.

In his letter to Naidu, Kharge said the Opposition parties had been “willing and eager” to discuss “all matters of public importance” during the session but the Government had “not only brushed aside the Opposition parties’ demands for discussions but also rushed through crucial Bills and policies which would potentially have grave and adverse effects on India”.

“It also bypassed Standing Committees and refused to have any meaningful discussion on Bills, policies and issues. Additionally, senior ministers were largely absent from Parliament while Opposition MPs were suspended. In doing so, the Government undermined the sovereignty of Parliament,” he wrote.

Kharge said the Government was “equally responsible” for the smooth functioning of Parliament and “it is incumbent on it to foster a conducive environment for healthy discussions”. “Deeply concerned about the national interest, the Opposition parties were left with no option but to protest against the Government’s authoritarian conduct.”

Kharge also recalled that when in the Opposition, the BJP had held similar protests in Parliament. “Many from the current ruling party have in the past posited that expressing dissent in this manner is acceptable in a parliamentary democracy.”

“Given this, constituting an inquiry committee on the incident of August 11… seems to be designed to intimidate MPs into silence. It will not only suppress the voices of the people’s representatives but will deliberately brush aside all those that are uncomfortable to the Government. I am, therefore, unequivocally against constituting the inquiry committee and the question of our party proposing the name of a member… to this committee does not arise,” Kharge wrote. He suggested that a “better course” would be to discuss this issue at an all-party meeting ahead of the next session.

Sources in the Trinamool Congress said the party was “not even asked” by the Chairman to nominate a member, adding that all the Opposition parties are united in refusing to be part of any inquiry committee.

“The Leader of the Opposition discussed the issue with me. We cannot be part of any such committee. The Parliament has an Ethics Committee. There is no need for a special committee. We do not agree with the Chairman’s proposal,” CPM floor leader Elamaram Kareem told The Indian Express.

“We are also not joining. We go with the other Opposition parties. When the other Opposition parties take a decision… we stand by it,” said DMK leader Tiruchi Siva.

“We align with the letter and spirit of what LoP Khargeji has written. Any ruckus in parliamentary democracy has to be seen in the wider context of how the Treasury Bench views the idea of Opposition in Parliament. If you want Parliament to be a rubber stamp for your policies… sorry this is not how Indian Parliament was envisaged,” the RJD’s Manoj Jha told The Indian Express.

On August 12, a day after the Monsoon Session of Parliament came to an abrupt end, Kharge had written to Naidu on behalf of the Opposition parties expressing “strongest possible condemnation” at the manner in which the House was conducted on August 11 evening.

“A very large number of security personnel, who were not part of the regular part of the watch and ward staff of the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, were deployed. They used unacceptable force and physically manhandled Members of Parliament, including women members… What happened last evening was a shocking, unprecedented insult to our democracy and the very dignity of the House. Opposition MPs were prevented from registering their protest against the General Insurance Amendment Bill on which there was a wide consensus that it should be referred to a Select Committee,” he had written.

The Bill, allowing the government to reduce its stake in insurance companies, and stop allying with insurers from the date the Centre ceases to have control over them, was passed after less than 20 minutes of discussion. It was earlier passed by the Lok Sabha.

According to PRS Legislative Research data, the Lok Sabha took only 34 minutes on average to pass a Bill in the Monsoon Session, while the Rajya Sabha did it in 46 minutes.

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