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Friday, August 12, 2022

House of fear: BJP’s suspension of Opposition MPs is damaging democracy

Sandeep Pathak writes: The practice of suppressing the voice of the Opposition by suspension must stop. The government must let Parliament do what it is meant to do: Debate and hold the government to account

Written by Sandeep Pathak |
Updated: August 5, 2022 8:59:17 pm
Parliament, suspension of MpsLast week, 23 Rajya Sabha MPs and four Lok Sabha MPs representing different opposition parties were suspended by the two chairs of the Houses. (Photo: Twitter/@AITCofficial)

Participation, representation, diversity, transparency and accountability are the bulwarks of democracy. They are embodied in Parliament, the highest and the most powerful panchayat in the country. It’s a platform where representatives of different castes, classes, religions and regions debate, discuss and deliberate upon the burning issues faced by the nation. But the prestige of this institution diminishes every time a member is suspended from the House.

An MP represents an average of 16.5 lakh citizens. Every time an MP is suspended, the voice of 16.5 lakh citizens isn’t heard in Parliament for the period of suspension. Last week, 23 Rajya Sabha MPs and four Lok Sabha MPs representing different opposition parties were suspended by the two chairs of the Houses. In other words, almost 4.5 crore Indians were not represented in parliamentary debates. Is wanting a debate on inflation, GST hikes, and misgovernance — issues that concern the common person — a crime?

Among those suspended include Aam Aadmi Party Rajya Sabha MPs, Sanjay Singh, Sushil Gupta and this writer, and Independent MP Ajit Bhuyan. Singh and Gupta represent Delhi in the Rajya Sabha, this writer represents Punjab while Bhuyan is from Assam. AAP has three MPs from Delhi and seven from Punjab and the party is among the sharpest critics of the government. Along with other opposition parties, it has demanded a debate on GST hike, inflation, and deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor in Gujarat. But the Opposition’s voice was not heard. The MPs from opposition parties entered the “well” of the House in the hope that with the cameras focusing on them, they would be heard. But that was not to be. After suspending 19 MPs for a week, the Rajya Sabha chairperson suspended AAP’s Sanjay Singh, describing his demand for a debate over the Gujarat government’s failures as “unruly behaviour”. The next day Sushil Gupta, Ajit Bhuyan and this writer were suspended, again for “unruly behaviour”.

It is an MP’s job to raise “fundamental issues” that affect the people — deaths due to spurious liquor, for instance. And, it is the government’s job to answer. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah — both of whom are from Gujarat — should have joined the debate and answered queries on how the liquor tragedy happened in Gujarat despite it being a dry state.

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Singh had given a notice under Rule 267 to set aside the Upper House’s listed business of the day to discuss the issue. But he did not receive any answer. In fact, the chair of the Rajya Sabha hasn’t approved a single notice under Rule 267 since he assumed his ex-officio position.

An MP can be suspended if the chair has a good enough reason to warrant such an action. The question is: Did the MPs do anything “uncommon”? Not really. Our Parliament has a culture of Opposition MPs entering the well of the House when the party in power does not hear them out. That is perhaps the only effective method of dissent inside the House. The moment an Opposition MP raises their voice, the mike is turned off and the frame of the broadcast is shifted to the Speaker or the ruling party MPs sitting “decently”, to build a perception of drama. Left with no choice, the MP has to enter the well of the House to let the citizens know that he did try.

Historically, MPs have raised slogans and displayed placards. The BJP has had a history of protests and disrupting parliament sessions while in Opposition. In 2010, when the 2G and CWG scam controversies were rife, the party protested session after session. Its then Leader of Opposition, the late Sushma Swaraj said, “it is the government’s job to run Parliament, not that of the Opposition”. She had also famously remarked, “Not allowing Parliament to function is also a form of democracy, like any other form.” But in office, the current BJP seems very different from the party of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a parliamentarian extraordinaire and a polished orator. It avoids debate.

Tavleen Singh writes |A Parliament for small things

The Lok Sabha, as of July 22, has a productivity of 15 per cent and the Rajya Sabha 23 per cent, as per PRS data. The government uses this data to spin the narrative of the Opposition not letting the House run. But actually, it uses any opportunity to avoid debate. Every time the chair suspends the business of the House, the government gets a chance to deflect the questions of the Opposition.

What we are witnessing today is the BJP’s fear of transparency, disregard for accountability and short-sightedness to diversity. By avoiding debate, the BJP government seems to be showing disrespect to the public. By adjourning Parliament under the ruse of “ruckus” by the Opposition, the party in office is running away from answering critical questions. The BJP might believe that running Parliament with brute force is an easy way out, but the party is damaging democracy. The practice of suppressing the voice of the Opposition by suspension must stop. The government must let Parliament do what it is meant to do: Debate and hold the government to account.

The writer is a AAP Member of Rajya Sabha from Punjab

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First published on: 05-08-2022 at 04:10:10 am
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