A majority of opposition members of the Rajya Sabha will, on Wednesday (December 8), boycott the entire day’s proceedings of Parliament’s Upper House in protest against the continued suspension of 12 of their colleagues.
More than 80 MPs from various opposition parties will join the 12 Rajya Sabha members who were suspended from attending the Winter Session and have, since November 30, been sitting on a daily protest in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in the Parliament compound.
The decision of opposition parties to boycott Rajya Sabha’s sitting on December 8 and, instead, join the suspended MPs in their protest was taken after Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu rejected repeated appeals to allow the 12 suspended MPs to attend House proceedings. The Centre too has refused to back down on its stand that the suspension can be revoked only if the 12 MPs tender an apology for their allegedly unruly conduct in the House on August 11 of the last session, which led to the harsh and unprecedented action against them in the current session.
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The suspended MPs from five parties – Syed Nasser Husain, Phulo Devi Netam, Chhaya Verma, Ripun Bora, Akhilesh Pratap Singh and Rajmani Patel (all Congress), Trinamool Congress’s Dola Sen and Shanta Chhatri, Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi and Anil Desai, Elamaram Kareem and Binoy Viswam from the CPM and CPI, respectively – have categorically ruled out the possibility of apologising and maintained that they had done nothing wrong. The opposition has also maintained that the suspension is “undemocratic and autocratic”, “in contravention of Rule 256 (1) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States” and “in violation of Article 85 of the Constitution”.
Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge had, on a daily basis for the past week, been consulting with floor leaders of various opposition parties on a united strategy to protest against the suspension of the MPs and on other issues over which to corner the government. However, a consensus on the joint strategy to protest against the suspension had evaded the over a dozen “like-minded opposition parties”, say sources, primarily on account of the Trinamool’s resistance to being seen as allowing the Congress to take the lead in the initiative. Though the Trinamool has been protesting against the government and the suspension on the same grounds as the Congress and other opposition parties, it has refrained from joining the Congress-led bloc in walkouts and strategy meetings.
With a week gone by since the suspension and no end to the present stalemate between the Chair and the Treasury on one side and the Opposition on the other, the opposition, it would appear, has been compelled to finally unite in its protest on a common plank.
Though Kharge’s discussions with leaders of parties such as the DMK, Shiv Sena, NCP, RJD, CPM and others still lacks consensus for a common strategy for the remainder of the Winter Session, unanimity has been reached at least on boycotting the entire day’s proceedings on December 8.
“Tomorrow [December 8] all opposition MPs of Rajya Sabha will sit in front of the Gandhi statue for the entire day in solidarity with the 12 MPs suspended for the entire session in violation of the Constitution and Rules of Procedure,” Congress Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh tweeted. The Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut confirmed the decision of the Opposition and told The Federal that “floor leaders of various like-minded parties are in constant touch and we will continue our united fight against the autocratic Narendra Modi government, which wants to stifle parliamentary democracy”.
Besides suspension of the 12 MPs, the opposition has also been protesting against the government’s refusal to have a detailed discussion on the plight of farmers in the aftermath of the now repealed farm laws, rising inflation and fuel prices, the recent killing of civilians in Nagaland’s Oting in a botched counter-insurgency operation, Chinese incursion into India and a litany of other issues. Kharge has accused the Rajya Sabha chairman and deputy chairman of scuttling the opposition’s demand for debates on critical issues of national importance “under pressure from the government”. The Congress veteran and Rajya Sabha LoP told The Federal that the past week of Parliament’s Winter Session has seen a clear pattern of “repeated unnecessary and long adjournments meant only to help the government escape accountability to the House and questioning by the Opposition”.
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The RJD’s Manoj Jha too claims that though the opposition has repeatedly assured the Rajya Sabha presiding officers and the Treasury of cooperation in debating issues of national importance, “the government is hell bent on murdering parliamentary democracy”. Meanwhile, MPs from the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in both Houses of Parliament, who have been uncharacteristically aggressive against the Centre in the current session, have decided to boycott proceedings for the entire Winter Session in protest against a slew of issues, including agri-procurement by the Centre from Telangana.
The Opposition has adopted a different strategy in the Lok Sabha, where its numbers anyway are no match against the brute majority of the Centre. In the Lok Sabha, opposition MPs have kept disruptions to a minimum and chosen to allow the Treasury to transact its legislative business, provided that the opposition is allowed to speak on these without undue prohibition. However, with Rajya Sabha proceedings as good as stalled in wake of repeated adjournments, opposition’s vociferous protests and boycott, the Centre’s legislative agenda is likely to take a hit, at least till the time one side agrees to end the stalemate. The possibility of such a compromise has, however, been looking increasingly unlikely for now.