Reflections from the Rajya Sabha: Suspended, but why? Apologise? For what?
12 RS MPs were suspended this week for the entire winter session. While the Chair has cited unruly conduct, MPs say suspension undemocratic and 'Apologise? For what?'
When I was an undergrad in college in the midsixties, I had come across a word, which I could neither pronounce nor fully understood: Pandemonium. I could not have imagined then that I would one day be actually living through pandemonium with shock and not a little awe!
Somehow, whatever I had studied in college was coming back to me, as I watched the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha for the first three days of the week. Indeed, these three days also served as a flashback to the last three days of the Monsoon session this year-- August, 10, 11 and 12!
That the Farm Laws Repeal Bill would be introduced and passed on the first day was anticipated. What did come as a surprise was the lightening speed with which the Bill was passed with no discussion. The real surprise was the suspension of 12 members of the Opposition on Monday, November 29, the very first day of the Winter session.
There was an uproar over the suspension order. Almost all Opposition parties condemned this unprecedented action by the Chair.
Interestingly, or rather astonishingly, the suspensions had come more than three months after the alleged incident in the House when the so called “misconduct” of the MPs had been noted.
According to experts and old-timers, this suspension was unprecedented and unconstitutional because such disciplinary and punitive action cannot be taken in the next session. It has been argued in defence of the belated suspension order that since the Rajya Sabha is an ongoing institution and never gets dissolved, such belated action is justified.
Sadly, the counter-argument by the Leader of Opposition (LoP) could not be even made in the House as the Chair refused to allow him to speak on it. It is at this point, when most members of the Opposition felt that it was a clear “suppression of their democratic right”, that they walked out in protest.
The suspended MPs, six from Congress, two each from Trinamool Congress and Shiv Sena and one each from CPM and CPI, are now staging “Satyagraha” in front of the statue of Gandhiji in the Parliament campus. They have refused to tender an apology since they maintain they said or did nothing which could be construed as violent or as disregard to the honourable Chair. If their conduct was seen as disruptive then, they point out, didn’t honourable leader of the BJP, late Arun Jaitley, justify disruptions as the democratic right of the Opposition! How was their conduct different from the conduct of several BJP leaders who were then in the opposition and now occupy the treasury benches?
The suspension notice read: "That this House takes cognizance and strongly condemns the utter disregard to the authority of the Chair, complete abuse of rules of the House persistently, thereby wilfully obstructing the business of the House through their unprecedented acts of misconduct, contemptuous, unruly and violent behaviour and intentional attacks on the last day of the 254th Session of Rajya Sabha (Monsoon Session), ie August 11, thereby lowering the dignity of and bringing disrepute to the august House by the following members and resolves for above compelling reasons to suspend those members from the service of the House for the remainder of the 255th session under Rule 256 of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Rajya Sabha.”
The day-- Monday, November 29-- had begun smoothly enough. The government was to repeal the three Agricultural Acts, condemned by the farmers as “Black Acts” and described as blatantly anti-farmer. But the Prime Minister himself had strongly defended the Acts saying they were to benefit farmers immensely and were aimed at doubling the farmers’ income. The agricultural economy would be revolutionised, said the PM and was echoed by all the ministers, spokespersons of the BJP and free market experts. The sit-in by the farmers at the four entry points to Delhi in the NCR region, had begun on November 26 last year. The government and their spokespersons had condemned the agitation and called the farmers Khalistanis, terrorists, Naxalites, Pakistani agents and worse. The Prime Minister himself said several times that very few farmers were agitating and that the majority of the farmers all over the country had welcomed the Acts.
But the protesting farmers refused to budge. They refused to be browbeaten or bought over. They were firm that the Black Acts had to be repealed. They were not ready to compromise nor were they going to be bulldozed by clever judicial interventions. It was becoming clearer as days passed that even the Supreme Court was not fully backing the government’s position.
The expert committee set up by the Supreme Court to study the farm laws submitted its report but the report is not in the public domain. Whatever might the report have stated, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha asserted that the farmers would not relent. As many as 700 farmers had become martyrs during the year-long protest. Contingents of farmers from all over India were coming in large numbers to express solidarity with the protest. There was no question of abandoning the protest.
On the completion of one year of the sit-in, farmers planned to enter New Delhi on November 26 and march to Parliament on November 29, the first day of the winter session. The situation was clearly taking an alarming turn. All the efforts of the Modi government to suppress, condemn and divide the farmers’ unity had failed. Finally, the government panicked and decided to repeal the Acts.
But the brazenness and hypocrisy was such that the so-called "Bhakts”, the apologists of the prime minister hailed the repeal of the Acts as a “masterstroke”. The same people had described the Acts as a ‘masterstroke’ when they were first bulldozed through Parliament, without referring the Bills to the Parliamentary Standing Committee or Select Committee for scrutiny.
Since September last year, the Opposition has been demanding a debate and discussion in Parliament on the farm laws. But that was not allowed. Somehow the word “farmer” seemed to have turned into an unparliamentary term. Members were stopped in the middle of their speech, if the term was even used in a context other than the protests.
So, when the government tried to bulldoze even repeal of the Acts without any discussion or debate, the Opposition protested in the House. When they were not allowed to speak, the members went to Vijay Chowk to present their case to the media, as they had done in August. INC leader Rahul Gandhi pointed out that in a bizarre move the government was trying to take “credit” for the repeal that reflected failure of its agricultural policies.
The Opposition’s spirited protest had derailed plans to appropriate credit and punctured the government campaign; To gloss over the failure they resorted to suspending the 12 Opposition MPs to divert attention. But even that has boomeranged and the Prime Minister and the government have lost face, credibility and whatever moral authority they might still have had.
As said in the beginning, sitting in the Rajya Sabha my memories from college days are rushing back to me as I recall these lines from Yeats’ poem, 'The Second Coming':
“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned, The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity."
(The writer is a Member of the Rajya Sabha. This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)