Almost two week since disruptions by opposition MPs marred the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted an interesting nugget from the annals of India’s parliamentary history Friday.
On 4 June 1949, HC Mukherjee, vice president of Constituent Assembly for drafting the Constitution of India, requested the members to issue the visitor’s card to only those they knew personally. Mukherjee said he had information that RSS members would enter the Constituent Hall and create disturbance. Timely intervention prevented it.
The RSS tried to create disturbance when the draft Constitution was being debated in the Constituent Assembly on Jan 4, 1949. Here is an authentic record. And today it poses as a great champion of the Constitution!!! pic.twitter.com/89NLrX2bkj
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) July 29, 2022
At a time when the monsoon session faces a washout threat and the BJP-led NDA government is taking a high moral ground and blaming the opposition for the logjam, the 1949 episode highlights how disruptions have been a part and parcel of parliamentary democracy. But what is different now is the increasing frequency of the disruptions, the growing animosity between the treasury benches and the opposition and the government’s handling of the situation.
The ongoing monsoon session is the latest example. As many as 27 opposition MPs have been suspended from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for the entire session that ends on 13 August.
Legislative business has come to an almost grinding halt, with MPs protesting not only inside the House but also outside and for the entire night. With opposition MPs either boycotting the House or getting suspended, debates and discussions have taken a backseat. Crucial bills are being passed without any debate or discussion.
This monsoon session is not an exception. During the 2020 monsoon session too, which was marred by frequent disruptions, the Narendra Modi government managed to pass 20 bills in Lok Sabha and 19 in Rajya Sabha, majority of them without any discussion or being referred to parliamentary committees.
What has also riled the opposition is the frequency with which members are getting suspended for protesting and holding placards.
The number of opposition MPs suspended from both Houses of Parliament since 2014 — when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rose to power — has gone up almost three times compared with the previous eight years, data accessed by ThePrint from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats shows.
This has led many opposition MPs to question the need to have parliament sessions at all if they are not allowed to question the government and its policies, have debates and discussions. Besides, the disruptions also impede Parliament’s productivity.
That is why the growing disruptions in Parliament is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Also read: Kharge says Congress won’t join panel to probe RS ruckus, calls it bid to ‘intimidate’ MPs
BJP’s changed stance on disruption
While the BJP-led NDA government is blaming the opposition for obstructing the House proceedings, senior leaders from the party, when the BJP was in opposition, had defended disruptions.
On 12 August 2012, former finance minister and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley had told reporters that there are occasions when an “obstruction in Parliament brings greater benefits to the country.” “Our strategy does not permit us to allow the government to use Parliament (for debate) without being held accountable… we do not want to give the government an escape route through debate,” he had said.
His colleague and former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj too had said in September 2012, “Not allowing parliament to function is also a form of democracy, like any other form.”
But clearly, with the BJP-led NDA government firmly in power now, the stand has changed.
Not only are opposition MPs getting suspended with alarming frequency for protesting inside the House, they are also alleging that the ruling dispensation is only showing treasury benches in live telecast of parliamentary proceedings.
Also read: Disruption in Parliament isn’t new. But there was a new aggression in this monsoon session
Bonhomie replaced by growing hostility
It’s not that in the past House proceedings did not witness any disruptions or suspensions of MPs. In March 1989, 63 MPs were suspended for three days for disrupting the House over the Thakkar Commission’s report, which looked into the assassination of former PM Indira Gandhi.
In more recent times, Parliament witnessed one of the worst disruptions during the winter session of December 2010, with opposition up in arms over the alleged 2G scam. The session had recorded a lowly 6 per cent work.
Dramatic scenes were witnessed again in February 2014, when the UPA government took up the Andhra Pradesh bifurcation bill. Congress MP Lagadapati Rajagopal took out a pepper spray and sprayed it in the House. The incident resulted in three MPs getting hospitalised.
The aggression witnessed during the monsoon session in 2021 is a case in point. The opposition refused to back down and let the House function until the Modi government accepted its demand to discuss issues such as the Pegasus snooping controversy and repeal of farm laws.
Both the Houses have witnessed bedlam many times in the past. But parliamentary experts say that the growing animosity inside and outside the House means that the process of discussion and debate are under attack like never before, unlike earlier when the treasury benches and opposition would eventually resolve differences through dialogues.
Now the two sides hardly interact, reflecting a fractious polity.
Old timers remember when stalwart opposition parliamentarians like Indrajit Gupta and Bhupesh Gupta, with their oratorial prowess and convincing arguments, would make the government bow to their demands.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Achary recounts the relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “Inside the House, Vajpayee was one of Nehru’s fiercest critics. With his powerful oratory, there were occasions when Vajpayee had tore apart the government over some issue or other. But they did not carry any animosity outside the House. There was mutual respect. That is missing now.”
Achary says that the hostility between the treasury benches and the opposition is only widening now and does not augur well for a parliamentary democracy.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)