Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have been compelled by protesting farmers to repeal the three contentious farm laws but, as Parliament’s winter session commenced on November 29, his government made it clear that it has no patience to deal with similar dissent by political rivals. Just as it had managed to bulldoze the farm laws through both Houses of Parliament last year without any thorough debate or scrutiny, the Centre, on November 29, succeeded in repealing the three laws overruling demands by the Opposition for a debate.
In an apparent bid to offset any damage to Modi’s personal image after his backpedalling on the three laws, the government seems to have decided to revert to its unyielding stance against political rivals in Parliament.
This was amply demonstrated in the Rajya Sabha on the very first day of the winter session with the Centre using its garrulous MPs to ensure that a motion moved by Union parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi to suspend 12 Opposition party MPs for protesting the Treasury’s refusal to debate the repeal of the three farm laws was adopted.
Amid loud protests by the Opposition, Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh put Joshi’s motion to a voice vote before declaring that the 12 MPs – six from the Congress, two each from the Trinamool Congress and the Shiv Sena and one each from the CPM and the CPI – were suspended from attending the House proceedings for the remainder of the winter session. The suspended MPs include Congress’ Phulo Devi Netam, Chhaya Verma, Ripun Bora, Syed Nasser Husain, Akhilesh Pratap Singh and Rajmani Patel, the Trinamool’s Dola Sen and Shanta Chhatri, the Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi and Anil Desai, Elamaram Kareem and Binoy Viswam from the CPM and CPI respectively.
Justifying the suspension of the Opposition MPs, Joshi told The Federal, “the government has always been prepared for any debate and the Prime Minister said so this morning too but the Opposition’s only aim is to disrupt House proceedings and paralyse the Parliament.”
The parliamentary affairs minister claimed that in denying a debate on the Bill to repeal the farm laws, the government was “merely following established precedent.” He, however, refused to respond to the Opposition’s charge that the Parliament had debated on as many as 17 Bills in the past that had been moved to repeal existing laws but was declining to follow this precedent in the case of the farm laws to avoid further embarrassment to Modi.
“The Opposition had been demanding that the three farm laws should be repealed. Now, even though these laws were in the interest of the farmers, the Prime Minister showed magnanimity to the few farmers who have been unhappy with the laws and decided to repeal them. When the Opposition wants the laws repealed and we have given them that, then what is left to discuss or debate,” Joshi told The Federal.
The Opposition parties, however, are not willing to buy the Centre’s rationale. Disruption of proceedings by the Opposition parties demanding a debate on the Bill to repeal the farm laws and issues related to the ongoing farmers’ agitation that is now in its second year had led to repeated adjournments of both Houses of Parliament. However, the government finally ensured that the laws were repealed and the Opposition was denied its chance to embarrass the Centre further through a detailed discussion on the matter.
After the Lok Sabha repealed the three laws, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi told media persons, “the government has been forced to repeal the three laws and this is a victory for the protesting farmers and the nation but the manner in which they were repealed, without any debate, shows how scared this government is of discussion.”
Gandhi said the Opposition wanted a discussion on the repeal of the laws because “these laws do not just reflect the views of the Prime Minister…we wanted to find out who were the forces behind these laws; the repeal is an admission by the government that it did something wrong but it is terrified and does not have the guts to face a discussion.”
Gandhi added that if the Prime Minister and his government believe that an address to the nation announcing repeal of laws – Modi had declared his intent to repeal the laws in a televised address on November 19 – then “the government should shut the Parliament… what purpose does it serve if laws are made and repealed through speeches”.
The Centre’s move to have the Opposition MPs suspended has made it certain that the remainder of Parliament’s winter session would see similar altercation between the government and its rivals and, perhaps, a further decline in robust discussions on proposed laws with far-reaching implications for the public.
A joint statement by leaders of 14 Opposition parties issued by Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress veteran and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, condemned the “unwarranted and undemocratic suspension of 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.”
The floor leaders of Opposition parties are expected to meet on Tuesday (November 30) morning “to deliberate on the future course of action to resist the authoritarian decision of the Government and defend Parliamentary democracy”, the joint statement said.
For the Modi government, though, there was also some reason to cheer over this ‘joint statement’ by Opposition parties as it also exposed a key chink in Opposition unity – the refusal of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress from associating with the statement released by Kharge. The absence of the Trinamool Congress from this joint statement, and an earlier meeting convened by Kharge of leaders of various Opposition parties, makes clear Banerjee’s apprehensions in allowing the Congress to take the lead among Opposition parties in cornering the Modi regime.
Though two of Trinamool’s own Rajya Sabha MPs have also been suspended from the remainder of the winter session, the party that is now in an expansionist mode at the cost of the Congress, clearly has no intention of playing second fiddle in the so-called effort for Opposition unity. This, for Modi and his government, is likely to be a key take-away from the otherwise uproarious scenes on the first day of the month-long winter session of Parliament.