Om Birla elected Lok Sabha speaker for second term

Watch: Om Birla elected Lok Sabha speaker for second term
| Video Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Modi and Leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi escorted Mr. Birla to Lok Sabha Speaker’s chair after his election.

Updated - June 26, 2024 10:40 pm IST

Published - June 26, 2024 11:41 am IST

Om Birla was elected Speaker of the 18th Lok Sabha on Wednesday, defeating Kodikunnil Suresh of the Congress in a voice vote, as the Opposition did not press for a division of votes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded Mr. Birla for the skill he showed in maintaining the decorum of the House during his previous term. Newly appointed Leader of the Opposition (LoP) Rahul Gandhi, however, stressed the importance of “impartiality” from the Speaker’s chair, noting that “the idea that you can run the House efficiently by silencing the voice of the Opposition is a non-democratic idea”.

In keeping with parliamentary tradition, Mr. Gandhi walked across the aisle to congratulate Mr. Birla, shook hands with Mr. Modi and escorted the Speaker to his Chair along with the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Om Birla after the latter was elected as the Speaker of the House during the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Leader of the Opposition Rahul Gandhi and Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Kiren Rijiju are also seen.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Om Birla after the latter was elected as the Speaker of the House during the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Leader of the Opposition Rahul Gandhi and Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Kiren Rijiju are also seen. | Photo Credit: PTI

‘Black spot in history’

But the bonhomie was short-lived as Mr. Birla read out a resolution to recall the imposition and excesses of the Emergency in 1975, triggering a huge uproar by the Opposition in the House. The resolution stated that the Congress had crushed the spirit of the Constitution and dictatorship had been imposed in 1975.

“The Emergency is a black spot in history. The aim of these amendments made by the Congress government was to bring all the powers to one person, to control the judiciary, and to destroy the basic principles of the Constitution. By doing this, the rights of citizens were suppressed and the principles of democracy attacked,” Mr. Birla said, reading out the resolution. “[T]he then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also talked about committed bureaucracy and committed judiciary, which is an example of her anti-democratic attitude,” he added.

Amid sloganeering by Opposition members, the House was adjourned for the day after observing a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Emergency.

Also Read:Parliament session Day 3 LIVE updates

‘Atmosphere of consensus’

The end of the day’s Lok Sabha’s proceedings was in stark contrast to the mood of the House at the beginning of the day. Though the Opposition INDIA bloc nominated Mr. Suresh to contest the election for the Speaker’s post, it did not ask for any division of votes, prompting pro tem Speaker Bhartruhari Mahtab to announce that Mr. Birla was elected by a voice vote.

This also led to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress taking opposing views; TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee claimed that Mr. Mahtab did not allow a count of votes, while the Congress’ Jairam Ramesh asserted that the party did not seek a division for the sake of “creating an atmosphere of consensus”.

The Lower House’s proceedings began with Mr. Modi moving a motion to elect Mr. Birla as the Speaker, a position that the three-term MP from Kota had held in the 17th Lok Sabha as well. All partners of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) also moved identical proposals in favour of Mr. Birla to convey a message of unity.

Similarly, the proposal for Mr. Suresh was moved by the Shiv Sena (UBT)‘s Arvind Sawant, and was supported by Congress leaders and their allies.

Also Read: Om Birla is a long-time associate of PM Modi and Amit Shah

‘Landmark legislation’

Once Mr. Birla assumed his Chair, the Prime Minister praised him for ensuring that the Lok Sabha functioned even during the COVID-19 period and for maintaining the dignity and decorum of the House, at times by taking difficult decisions. “When people analyse the significance of the 17th Lok Sabha under your leadership in the future, the role of the House in giving a new direction will prominely feature,” Mr. Modi said.

Highlighting “landmark legislation” such as the Constitutional amendment to provide for women‘s reservation in the parliamentary and State polls, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, and the three new criminal laws, the Prime Minister noted that the 17th Lok Sabha Sabha had achieved 97% productivity, the highest rate in 25 years.

‘Allow Opposition voices’

“Speaker Sir, the question is not how efficiently the House is run, the question is how much of India’s voice is being allowed to be heard in this House,” Mr. Gandhi said, speaking after Mr. Modi. “The Opposition would like to assist you in your work. I am confident you will allow us to speak in the House,” the LoP added.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav hoped that MPs would not be suspended under the new Speaker’s watch, warning that this hurt the dignity of the House.

“We believe you will move forward without discrimination and as the Speaker, you will give equal opportunity and respect to every party. Impartiality is a great responsibility of this great post. You sitting here are the chief justice of the court of democracy,” Mr. Yadav said.

Responding to the congratulatory messages, Mr. Birla said, ”Treasury and Opposition benches run the House together. The strength of Indian democracy is in listening to everyone, and running the House with everyone’s agreement.”

Counter attack

However, that sense of agreement completely disappeared after the Speaker read out the resolution on the Emergency, once the Prime Minister had introduced his Council of Ministers.

BJP MPs later staged a protest in the Parliament complex to mark the 49th anniversary of the Emergency. Opposition leaders hit back, asking how long the BJP would look into the rear-view mirror to blame the Congress.

The ruling party’s sharp attack on the Congress on this issue is being viewed as a counter to the main Opposition party’s accusation that the BJP is attempting to subvert the Constitution.

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