Suspension of 146 MPs from Parliament galvanises INDIA bloc

The 28-party INDIA bloc staged a protest at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi where senior leaders of the alliance hit out at PM Modi for the suspensions even as they accused the BJP government of throttling democracy and subverting the constitution. A report by Mudit Mathur

The winter session of Parliament saw an unprecedented lapse in the security of the heavily fortified new building when two youths carrying smoke canisters jumped into the House chamber from the visitors’ gallery in the Lok Sabha while it was in session. Subsequently, in an unprecedented move, the Rajya Sabha Chairman and Lok Sabha speaker suspended 146 members of parliament who were demanding an official statement from the Union Home Minister over the incident. The government then sent shockwaves by clearing contentious legislations without any debate with Opposition Benches in both houses close to empty after a record number of suspensions. This compelled the angry opposition to hit the streets with a slogan to “Save Democracy” under the INDIA bloc from Jantar Mantar to all the states on the call of Congress Working Committee (CWS).

On the other hand, the Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar blew the issue of his alleged mimicking by TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee in the parliament premises out of proportion. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was seen making the video of Banerjee’s alleged act on his phone. This provided ammunition to ruling BJP to target opposition leaders. Even President Droupadi Murmu expressed her dismay at the manner in which Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar was “humiliated” in the Parliament complex.

At the recently held fourth meeting of its constituent 28 political parties on 19th December in Delhi, INDIA bloc resolved to further strengthen its unity even as the leaders discussed the seat sharing arrangement. The suspension of almost all opposition members from Parliament gave them further opportunity to come closer to fight for preserving parliamentary form of democracy, which they feel is being threatened and undermined by the government. The opposition alleged that the government was trying to silence the nation and both houses of parliament, where the elected representatives air aspirations and needs of the people they represent.

The suspensions continued amid ongoing politically predetermined legislative business, including the passage of proposed laws set to replace British-era criminal codes, regulate the telecom industry, and shape the selection of India’s top election officials, as the Opposition refused to budge on its demand for a statement from Home Minister Amit Shah on the Parliament security breach.

Meanwhile, many parliamentarians and legal experts feel that even in the redrafted form, the Bills “weaponised the police and the criminal justice system to give edge to the political leadership at all levels – centre, state and local, and even greater opportunity to abuse the criminal justice system for political gains through selective, targeted and politically biased prosecution against ideological and political rivals.

The 28-party Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) organised a protest against undemocratic treatment meted out to them at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, that was attended by all the leaders of its constituents who hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During what turned out to be a joint public protest of concerned voices, senior leaders of the INDIA bloc while delivering at the Jantar Mantar accused the BJP government of throttling parliamentary democracy and subverting the constitution.

Apart from the top Congress leaders, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja, Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Sitaram Yechury, RJD’s Manoj Jha, ST Hasan of the Samajwadi Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) Tiruchi Siva, CPI (ML)’s Dipankar Bhattacharya, RSP’s N K Premachandran, AAP’s  national general secretary (organisation) Sandeep Pathak and representatives of the TMC, National Conference, JMM and RLD were among those  present during the protest.

“When everyone comes together, Narendra Modi won’t be able to do anything,” Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said, highlighting the need to ‘save’ democracy, constitution and free speech. Kharge criticised the BJP government for not letting the Opposition speak when women and Dalits are allegedly assaulted, farmers are killed or the Constitution is violated. Meanwhile, opposition parties hit the streets and held protests across the country against a record number of members having been suspended from Parliament in the recently concluded winter session which had never happened in the parliamentary history before.

While hailing opposition unity, Kharge slammed the passage of key bills in Houses and asserted that everyone had the right to speak in a democracy and no one could snatch away that freedom. “When women or Dalits are assaulted, farmers are killed, and the Constitution is violated, we give notices in Parliament but are not even permitted to read them. What should I say? Should I say the BJP and its government would not allow a Dalit to speak?,” he questioned.

“In a democracy, everyone has a right to speak. You cannot snatch away that freedom. We got that freedom thanks to Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and BR Ambedkar. These people gave us freedom. Even a mouse from your [BJP] house did not join the freedom struggle,” he said. “You threw away all Opposition MPs [Members of Parliament] and passed all the bills unopposed,” he added.

NCP chief Sharat Pawar said the leaders of the INDIA bloc were ready to pay any price to save the democracy. “Today, farmers are going on the path of suicide, the youngsters working in factories are not even getting proper wages. Therefore, we will have to take responsibility and work hard to remove the forces attacking democracy,” he said. “They think they can silence the Opposition by doing this. We are ready to pay any price to save our democracy,” Pawar added.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said opposition members were suspended for demanding answers from Home Minister Amit Shah over the Parliament security breach. “By shunting out 150 MPs from the Parliament, the government has shut out the voice of 60% Indians,” he said. Rahul, once again linked the breach to unemployment — an issue which he feels would strike a chord with the people.

Questioning on security breach, “The first question is how did they get inside? How did they bring the gas canisters inside Parliament? They could have brought something else too…The second question is why did they do the protest. The reason is unemployment. There is massive unemployment in the country…the youth of the country are not able to find jobs,” Rahul said.

RJD leader Manoj Jha said the government wants an “Opposition-mukt Parliament, resistance-free streets, player-free sports and question-free media. This battle is not just about suspended MPs. When he goes abroad, our Prime Minister proudly proclaims that he is from India, the mother of democracy. Now 150 MPs have been suspended… with what face you will say that you have come from the mother of democracy… The mother is ailing…is in the intensive care unit,” he said.

Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja said the government was trying to make Parliament, which represents the sovereign will of the people, redundant. “If you eliminate the Opposition by hook or by crook, you are undermining Parliament, you are making Parliament redundant. If Parliament becomes redundant, democracy dies, democracy is killed. This is what Modi and his government is doing. This is what we call fascism, fascist dictatorship,” he said.

Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Sitaram Yechury said the unprecedented suspensions raise questions on whether parliamentary democracy would survive if the BJP returns to power. Referring to the government’s claims about ‘Amrit Kaal’, Yechury said: “They are talking about Amrit Kaal… remember how Amrit was found. According to Vishnu Purana ‘Amrit’ came from the churning of the ocean, but it first fell in the wrong hands. Today, the ‘Amrit’ is in the wrong hands, we have to get it back, and that is our pledge,” he vowed.

Meanwhile, protests were held across state capitals on 22nd December, led by different parties. In Uttar Pradesh, workers of SP, the Congress, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and CPI (M) took part in the protest in Lucknow. In Patna, the Congress, Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) participated in the protest. In Telangana, deputy CM Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka and several ministers participated in a dharna in Hyderabad. In Bengaluru, Ranchi and Jaipur, the Congress led the agitation.