The winter session of Parliament started and ended on an acrimonious note, beginning with the suspension of 12 Opposition MPs in the Rajya Sabha and concluding with the passing of the controversial Electoral Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021, which seeks to link electoral rolls with the Aadhaar database, while ignoring strident protests from the Opposition.
The session that concluded on Wednesday, a day ahead of the schedule, was also marred by protests in both Houses demanding the resignation of Minister of Home Affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni, for the violence in Lakhimpur Kheri, which the government chose to ignore.
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Giving an account of the session at a press conference, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said that the productivity of the Lok Sabha was around 82% and that of the Rajya Sabha around 48%.
During the session, 13 Bills (12 in the Lok Sabha and one Bill in the Rajya Sabha) were introduced, while 11 Bills were passed by both Houses of Parliament.
“It is unfortunate that despite our efforts, and [despite] reaching out to the Opposition, they created a ruckus in the House. It seems that the Congress and other Opposition parties are unable to digest the mandate of 2019 given by the people,” Mr. Joshi said.
He said that the government had referred six Bills to Parliamentary Committees for closer scrutiny, including the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill that seeks to override personal laws of different religions to increase the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years.
The Opposition countered the Minister’s claim, calling the suspension of 12 Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha as “undemocratic and unconstitutional”. The Congress alleged that the suspension was effected on day one of the winter session to “create” a majority for the government and ensure passage of Bills. Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Derek O’Brien too said that the exercise was aimed at “manufacturing a majority”.
Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, addressing a press conference, said that while the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had 118 members, the Opposition had 120 MPs.
“You didn’t have the numbers and your Bills would have failed if our 120 members had unitedly fought against these Bills,” Mr. Kharge said, adding that the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha did not have much say in the matter of revoking the suspension of Opposition members.
Chief Whip Jairam Ramesh said that although the LoP had told the Leader of the Rajya Sabha, Piyush Goyal, that he would express regret collectively on behalf of all the suspended members, Mr. Goyal had insisted on individual apologies from each member. “The government has started a new practice of suspending members for events that took place in the previous session,” Mr. Ramesh alleged.
In the Lok Sabha, where the confrontation was over the Opposition’s demand to sack Mr. Teni for his alleged involvement in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the Opposition could not be expected to keep quiet when a Union Minister’s son is an accused in a case.
“Our intention was clearly to run the House and we ran it until December 16. But when the SIT (Special Investigation Team) called the incident [Lakhimpur Kheri] a pre-planned conspiracy, we wanted to seek answers from the government. Our leader Rahul Gandhi, who also wanted to raise the issue, asked for a discussion on the Lakhimpur Kheri incident but the government remained adamant,” Mr. Chowdhury said.
Mr Ramesh said the Congress believed in “constructive criticism” and would have wanted to raise key issues like price rise, unemployment and the border situation.
Spelling out a doomsday scenario, Mr. O’ Brien said that he did not expect the forthcoming Budget session to be any different. “This is the tactic of the Modi-Shah duo. They do not want the Parliament to run because the government is accountable to the Parliament, and the Parliament to the people. If the Parliament doesn’t run, then they need not answer to the people,” he said.
He further added that neither the Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mr. Joshi nor the leader of house in the Rajya Sabha Mr. Goyal could be held responsible for the fracas. “Hitler burned down Parliament and Modi is slowly poisoning it,” he said.
The tone of the session was set on the very first day when the farm law repeal bill was passed without a debate in both Houses of Parliament, roiling the Opposition who wanted to use the opportunity to put the government on the mat for the 750 farmer deaths in the year-long agitation.
On the same day, 12 Opposition MPs were suspended from the Rajya Sabha for the entire session for their alleged misconduct in the previous session. The suspended MPs, barring Shiv Sena’s Anil Desai, who came only for a single day, sat in protest for 22 days at the Gandhi statue in Parliament, as a grim reminder of the bitter relations between the two sides.
The government on Sunday, made a belated attempt to reach out to the Opposition, inviting leaders of five parties to which the suspended MPs belong. But in a coordinated effort, all the five parties — the Congress, the TMC, the Shiv Sena, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) — declined the invitation.
The Opposition closed the session by reading out the Preamble of the Indian Constitution at the protest site.