Rajat Sharma

Do not throttle democracy by disrupting Parliament

AKB30On Wednesday in Parliament, tradition lost and unruly behaviour won. In the face of continued disruptions from opposition, the entire monsoon session of Parliament was a washout, and both the houses had to be adjourned sine die two days before schedule. The session was to continue till August 13, but the way proceedings were going on, it was a sham to call it a proceeding. The opposition parties had their way, they did not allow debates and normal proceedings to take place, and they did.

All the opposition parties were united on this issue right from Day One, that is July 19, when the monsoon session began. Nobody wanted a recurrence of the hooliganism that took place inside Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, when some members stood on the reporters’ table and threw rule book at the chair after the House had been adjourned.

The Opposition can consider this as their ‘victory’, but it was a big ‘defeat’ for our hoary democratic traditions. The Opposition committed sacrilege inside the temple of democracy. The Chairman of Rajya Sabha M. Venkaiah Naidu broke down while reading out his statement condemning the act of sacrilege. Naidu said, he could not sleep on Tuesday night because of what the Opposition MPs did.

Naidu described Parliament as the temple of democracy and the well of the House as its ‘sanctum sanctorum’. He said, “I am distressed by the way the sacredness was destroyed yesterday. When some members sat on the table, some members climbed on the table of the House, perhaps to be more visible with such acts of sacrilege. …I have no words to convey my anguish and to condemn such acts as I spent a sleepless night, last night.”

Naidu then broke down. After a long pause, he continued, “ I struggle to find out the reason or provocation for forcing this august House to hit such a low yesterday….In our temples, devotees are allowed only up to the sanctum sanctorum and not beyond. Entering this sanctum sanctorum of the House in itself is an act of sacrilege and it has been happening as routine over the years.”

I know Venkaiah Naidu since decades. He is a simple, emotional person. He has always been in favour of upholding the dignity of Parliamentary democracy in line with our culture, traditions and public life. He had been conducting the proceedings of the Upper House with dignity and restraint. I felt said when I watched him with tears in his eyes.

Naidu tried his best to accommodate the wishes of the opposition, but the manner in which some of the MPs stood on the table, threw the rule book and shouted slogans, was demeaning. This is not parliamentary etiquette. Pandemonium did took place in Parliament in the past for a day or two, posters were shown, but after the initial uproar, the House always sat for detailed discussion and debate.

This was the first time that an entire session was disrupted and sacrificed at the altar of the whims of some political parties. Nobody can justify such an act. I personally think the opposition made a big mistake by disrupting the entire session. It could have utilized the time for cornering the government on issues like Covid deaths during the second wave, Pegasus and farmers’ demands.

The opposition could have put probing questions, arguments and facts to corner the treasury benches. For ministers, taking part in Parliament proceedings, armed with facts and arguments, is a daily test of their patience and talent. Since there were no debates, the ministers heaved a sigh of relief, but is it good for the health of our democracy? The nation is the loser.

In earlier days, stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Ram Manohar Lohia, Madhu Limaye used to come to Parliament armed with facts and cogent arguments, and put the government of the day on the mat. In later years, parliamentarians like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj used to enthral listeners with their speeches, hitting out at governments with their pointed arguments. If the opposition had carried on with this great tradition, it would have been welcomed by the people of India. Whatever happened inside Parliament during this session does not bode well for our democracy.

The entire nation witnessed who snatched away the written reply from the minister’s hands and tore it up. People watched who threw the torn papers towards the Chairman, who stood up on reporters’ table, shouted slogans and threw the rule book at the Chair. People know which MP did what. But on Wednesday, many of these MPs posed themselves as victims and questioned why male marshals have been placed in front of women MPs and female marshals placed in front of male MPs.

At around 7 pm on Wednesday, when the Rajya Sabha reconvened, opposition MPs started whistling loudly, and the Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that male marshals had ‘manhandled’ women MPs leading to disturbance inside the House. This was hotly contested by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi.

Surprisingly, half an hour before Kharge could raise the issue, TMC member O’Brien had already tweeted saying: “CENSORSHIP RSTV Bad to worse. Modi-Shah’s brutal government now using ‘GENDER SHIELDS’ to foil MP protests inside Rajya Sabha. Male marshals for women MPs. Female marshals posted in front of male MPs. (Few oppn MPs shooting videos for proof)”.

If the opposition leaders think their allegation is true, the Chairman should constitute a committee to go into these allegations and decide what provoked the members to cause disturbance. The committee should also go into who stood on the table, who threw the papers and rule book at the Chair, and who shouted slogans. Those found guilty must be punished. At least, the nation wants that such a crude form of protest should never be repeated in Parliament.

The saddest part in the entire episode is that the opposition did all this as part of a well-planned strategy. The opposition which had been saying that it would not allow Parliament to function unless the three farm bills are repealed, sat silent and even took part in a debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill which provides for states to include castes in Other Backward Classes List. The opposition parties did this only because they would never allow their vote banks to be affected adversely. No party can oppose reservation for backward classes.

The interesting part is that while all the parties unanimously supported the bill, some of them indulged in politicizing it. Trinamool Congress, Shiv Sena, Congress, and Samajwadi Party raised doubts about the motives of the government in bringing this bill now. TMC member Derek O’Brien said, government brings bill and gets it passed in haste, and then tries to bring amendments to rectify errors. He said, the bill may be passed but backward classes will still not get the benefits.

Soon after the OBC bill was passed, and other business taken up, opposition members again entered the well of the House, tore and threw away papers, and the House, after passing the Insurance Business amendment bill amidst pandemonium, had to be adjourned.

The moot question is: Who benefits from the disruptions in Parliament? The government does not benefit, the opposition shouts slogans, but fails to convey its feelings to the people, the voters do not benefit because issues of public interest and welfare are not debated. Then who is the ultimate loser?

The government manages to get its bills passed during uproar, the opposition members, despite disrupting the proceedings, get their daily allowances for attendance, they are not the losers too, the ultimate loser is the nation and the people.

One minute of proceedings in Parliament costs Rs 2.5 lakhs on average, every hour of proceedings cost Rs 1.5 crore. Thus nearly Rs 125 crore was lost due to disruptions inside Parliament. The loss is not only financial. The loss accrues to the image of our parliament, our democratic traditions.

Parliament is not a place for display of rowdy tactics. If there are disruptions and no debates, it will amount to throttling our democracy. This must not be allowed to happen, at any cost. Even the argument that the present ruling party had done the same earlier when it was in opposition, does not justify what is being done now.

The Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman must ensure that strict rules are framed, and applied stringently, irrespective of party or affiliation. Those who do not follow rules of the House must face the most stringent punishment. Such sacrileges must end.

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