THEY ARE poles apart ideologically, and bitter rivals in West Bengal, Kerala and Delhi, but the eight Rajya Sabha MPs — from the Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — who spent a day and night on the grassy lawns of Parliament, next to the Gandhi statue, to protest against their suspension had a common concern: how to sustain the momentum against the BJP-led government.
The political significance of the symbolic dharna which began shortly after noon on Monday was not lost on anyone. For the Opposition, the passage of what it calls “anti-farmer Bills” is the first grassroots issue that it has got since the anti-CAA/NRC protests, and the challenge now is to turn it into a political movement. For the BJP, the immediate concern is the coming Bihar Assembly elections.
The suspended MPs — Congress’s Rajeev Satav, Syed Naseer Hussain and Ripun Bora, Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien and Dola Sen, AAP’s Sanjay Singh and CPI(M)’s K K Ragesh and Elamaram Kareem — spent a peaceful night, but could get little sleep. “We hardly slept for two-and-a-half hours,” Ragesh said. Some like O’Brien changed into T-shirt and track pants to make the night out in the open a little more comfortable.
Many other Opposition MPs gave them company, at least till 1 am. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, Farooq Abdullah (NC), Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena) and Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) were among those who dropped in at night in a show of support. Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke to five-six suspended MPs on the phone, and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar sent a message of solidarity.
The eight MPs stayed awake till about 3 am, singing songs, discussing politics and engaging on social media. Mosquitoes were the only irritant. Sen, a trade unionist turned MP, sang songs of resistance. And Singh, who represents a party which was born out of dharna politics, pitched in with a song too.
“I sang songs of movement,” Sen told The Indian Express. Sen, head of the TMC’s trade union wing, had led a hunger strike in Kolkata last year in protest against the Centre’s decision to disinvest 42 public sector companies.
“We were all awake till 2.30-3 am, discussing politics, sending videos… we slept for about two-and-a-half hours and woke up around 5.30 am. Then we took a walk inside Parliament premises,” said Hussain. “It was a peaceful night except for the mosquitoes,” he said.
“Look at the coils we had to burn to protect ourselves from mosquitoes,” Sen said, pointing to the leftover coils lying on the grass.
The morning brought a surprise visitor. Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh —against whom 12 Opposition parties gave a no-confidence motion — came at about 7 am, with tea and breakfast. But his tea diplomacy did not cut much ice. Hussain said none of them had the tea or breakfast brought by the Deputy Chairman. “He told us his visit was personal, he was not using his official vehicle. Although he came with the media, we initially thought it was a personal visit. But it became clear that it was a political visit when we came to know that he was going to observe a 24-hour fast. And when the Prime Minster tweeted, praising him for bringing tea for us, the game plan became clear. That it was all aimed at Bihar… they have realised that they are getting alienated from the people,” Ragesh told The Indian Express.
In his tweet, Modi said: “For centuries, the great land of Bihar has been teaching us the values of democracy. In line with that wonderful ethos, MP from Bihar and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Shri Harivansh Ji’s inspiring and statesman like conduct this morning will make every democracy lover proud… To personally serve tea to those who attacked and insulted him a few days ago as well as those sitting on dharna shows that Shri Harivansh Ji has been blessed with a humble mind and a big heart. It shows his greatness. I join the people of India in congratulating Harivansh Ji.”
“He (Harivansh) came just for optics. The whole ruckus was created because of his partisan behaviour… he wanted to make amends… he came with the media so that the media could send the message that he tried to reach out to us… We didn’t speak to him much. We just told him that he should give back the morsels that he has snatched from the mouths of farmers,” Hussain said. Singh said the MPs told the Deputy Chairman that the anti-farmer Bills were passed in blatant violation of rules and procedures. “The BJP did not have majority. We kept demanding division, but he did not allow voting,” he said.
The eight MPs called off the sit-in around 10 am, after Azad announced boycott of Rajya Sabha for the rest of the monsoon session. And all of them rushed home to catch some sleep.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines