Twelve Opposition members of the Rajya Sabha were suspended for the entire winter session on Monday for “unprecedented acts of misconduct”, “unruly and violent behaviour” and “intentional attacks on security personnel” on August 11, the last day of the previous monsoon session.
Following the decision, the Opposition was mulling several options including boycotting the entire winter session of Parliament.
This is the first time members of Rajya Sabha have been suspended for misconduct during the previous session. Opposition parties described the move as “authoritarian”, “unwarranted” and “undemocratic”.
The suspension was announced after the Bill to repeal the farm laws was passed in the Upper House. The House was adjourned for the day soon after the announcement.
Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge held a hurried meeting of opposition parties to frame their reaction to the unprecedented suspension. According to sources, some parties felt that Mr. Kharge should convey the collective anguish of the Opposition to this absolutely condemnable onslaught on democracy. If the government refuses to open a dialogue for revoking the suspension of 12 MPs, the Opposition should consider boycotting the entire session, they said, though there were some reservations on the idea of boycotting the Parliament.
Mr. Kharge has called a meeting of the floor leaders of the opposition parties on Tuesday to decide the future course.
“The leaders of the opposition parties unitedly condemn the unwarranted and undemocratic suspension of the 12 members in violation of all the Rules of Procedure of Rajya Sabha pertaining to suspension of members for the entire duration of the winter session,” a joint statement from 14 opposition parties said.
The statement further said that the motion moved by the government for suspending the members in regard to the unfortunate incident that occurred in the previous session is unprecedented and violates the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Council of States(Rajya Sabha).
However, the TMC did not participate in the Congress-led deliberations and nor did it sign the Opposition joint statement. TMC MP Dola Sen said they were not informed about the Opposition meeting.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi moved the resolution to suspend the 12 MPs shortly after the House resumed at 3.09 p.m. on Monday. The motion was put to a voice vote and adopted amid loud protests by the Opposition benches.
While moving the motion, Mr. Joshi said, “This House takes the cognisance and strongly condemns the utter disregard to the authority of the Chair, complete abuse of the rules of the House persistently obstructing the business of the House through their unprecedented acts ...violent behaviour and intentional attack on the security personnel on the last day of the Rajya Sabha (monsoon session) on 11 August 2021, thereby lowering the dignity of and bringing disrepute to this august house.”
The 12 suspended MPs include five from Congress — Phulo Devi Netam, Ripun Bora, Rajamani Patel, Syed Nasir Hussain and Akhilesh Pratap Singh; two from Trinamool Congress — Dola Sen and Shanta Chhetri; two from Shiv Sena — Anil Desai and Priyanka Chaturvedi; CPI(M)’s Elamaram Kareem and CPI’s Binoy Viswam. The MPs were suspended under Rule 256 of Rajya Sabha rules which allows for suspension “for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session”.
However, there is no clarity on why these 12 MPs have been chosen for suspension when the government chargesheet had named more than 20 members. On August 11, AAP MP Sanjay Singh was one of the first to climb on the reporters’ table. Visuals of Congress MP Pratap Singh Bajwa throwing the rule book at the empty chair were also circulated on television channels. But neither of them has been suspended.
CPI (M) MP Mr. Kareem said the government’s move is unprecedented. “This is the first time that Rule 256 of Rajya Sabha rules has been invoked to suspend members for things that happened in the previous session. The Opposition protests happen because the government is scared of holding a debate,” he added.
Speaking to The Hindu , TMC MP Ms. Sen said that the suspension is against any existing conventions and norms. “How long can they go on suspending us? We won’t be cowed down by these measures,” she said. Ms Sen was suspended during the September 2020 when the farm bills were first moved and also in the last monsoon session.
The suspended MPs also raised questions on the procedure to suspend them. Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi pointed out that she was not called to present her side of the story.
“This again goes to show that the government wants to silence the voice of those who speak against them. This is absolutely unfair and undemocratic,” she said. Ms. Chaturvedi added that this is not legally tenable. “If you see the CCTV footage it has been recorded how male marshals were jostling female MPs,” she added.
Earlier in the day, Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu in his opening remarks expressed regrets over the events of monsoon session. He said that 70% of the time was lost due to disruptions and it was a “forgettable” session at the end of which “there were no winners”.
Mr. Naidu said, “All the sections of this august House ended up as losers and so was the country. Should we not draw the right lessons from such unpleasant experiences that entail huge costs to the democracy besides leaving a bitter pill in the mouths of the people of our country who have pinned high hopes on the legislatures and their chosen representatives?”
The government wanted a detailed enquiry, Mr Naidu said, but the Opposition members refused to be part of such an exercise.
(with inputs from Vijaita Singh)