RIGHT ANGLE – Fit case for prolonging, not lifting, the suspension of the erring MPs
Indian political discourse is increasingly being marked by double standards. Take, for instance, the case of 12 Rajya Sabha members being suspended for this session by Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu. The opposition parties and their supporters have termed it as the murder of democracy. But is that so really?
We all know how the Assemblies in the States run by these very opposition parties have treated their opposition MLAs? I am not going to cite the examples which are in plenty in the states like West Bengal, Delhi and Maharashtra. But the case of Maharashtra is particularly noteworthy. 12 BJP MLAs remain suspended for ONE YEAR (since July 21) from Maharashtra Assembly. For the ruling parties there, it is no murder of democracy. But here in Delhi as they happen to be in “opposition”, the suspension of their MPs is a murder of democracy! Nothing can be more farcical than this.
Secondly, is it the first time that MPs have been suspended in the Rajya Sabha, or for that matter in Lok Sabha? As Vice President (Chairman of the Rajya Sabha) Naidu has rightly reminded, it has happened on 11 occasions till 2010, starting from 1962. “Were all of them undemocratic? If so, why was it resorted to so many times?” he has asked, adding that “The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business clearly provide for suspension of members for disrupting the proceedings of the House and for misconduct lowering the dignity of the House under Rules 255 and 256.”
Rules clearly say that Members are prohibited from raising slogans, wearing badges, waving flags, posters, keeping arms and short-guns in the House. Members are also not supposed to come in the middle of the proceedings of the House to protest.
Besides, according to “the Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette” of the Rajya Sabha, “The House has the right to punish its members for their misconduct whether in the House or outside it. In cases of misconduct or contempt committed by its members, the House can impose a punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, and withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House.”
Given these provisions, Naidu has a point when he says that he cannot understand the “narrative” by the opposition that suspension is murder of democracy. On the contrary, one should appreciate Naidu’s, what he says, anguish at the “sacrilege” on the part of the suspended MPs and their “ those forgettable acts of misconduct during the last Monsoon Session ……While calling this suspension as undemocratic, both within and outside the House, not even a word is being said about the reasons given for the suspension, the disdainful conduct of some members during the last session, which I have categorically called as ‘acts of sacrilege’ on the last day of last session…. Unfortunately, a message is sought to be sent out that ‘sacrilege’ of the House is democratic but action against such sacrilege is undemocratic. I am sure people of the country would not buy this new norms of democracy.”
And finally, the Vice President has rightly found fault with the suspended MPs insisting that they would not apologize. He had requested them to express remorse for revoking the suspensions prematurely. “Then what is the way forward? You don’t want to regret your misconduct but insist on revoking the decision of this House taken as per due process stipulated under the Rules of the House. Does this amount to upholding the principles of democracy?” he has asked.
But then, the opposition parties, the Congress party in particular, are not impressed. The Congress “supremo” for all practical purposes, Rahul Gandhi, says that there is no question of expressing any remorse.
In fact, ever since the Congress lost power at the Centre in 2014, it has always tried its best to paralyse the Parliament. And it has done so by shouting slogans, displaying placards and storming into the well. Of course, in the Lok Sabha, the Presiding Officers are displaying exemplary restraint in not getting provoked and allowing the House to function. In fact, in the last Lok Sabha the Congress members once gesticulated to the Deputy Speaker, threw papers at him and banged his table, their sole intention being to provoke him to adjourn the House, which he did not do.
But the same cannot be said of the Presiding Officers of the Rajya Sabha, including the Vice President. They have been really sensitive to the agitating Congress members, some of whom troop into the well not only to roar and shout but also howl (while watching the Rajya Sabha TV once I could not believe senior members competing against themselves in airing out their lungs for howling; with some putting pressing the sides of their lips for louder sounds. As the then Deputy Chairman P J Kurien declared before adjourning the House for the day, “I am sorry that the members are roaring and shouting. What can I do? I am sorry that I am not able to proceed with the bill because the members are not allowing. It is very unfortunate…It is very unfortunate…It is a very sorry state of affairs in the House”.
Incidentally, a prominent English daily carried a report the next day, giving details of the modus operandi of the “Slogan Shouting Congress Elders” in Rajya Sabha. Let me quote the paper: “The three that stand out (in slogan-shouting) are V Hanumantha Rao, Mohammad Ali Khan and K V P Ramachandra Rao. Whereas the first two are the most vociferous slogan-shouters from the Congress troops in the well of the House, Rao has a unique style: He places his hands over his mouth to produce a howling to disturb proceedings. Vijaylaxmi Sadho, Viplove Thakur and Rajani Patil stand out among women slogan shouters who chip in to keep the Congress flock in the well of the House to respond in unison. Apart from these, there is a couple of more who occasionally use their lung power to raise the decibel levels, when they suspect that the effort to block the House is losing steam. These include former Union minister Ashwani Kumar, party general secretary BK Hariprasad and Raj Babbar. The sloganeers virtually take turns to avoid a sore throat. And most of them do not leave the House when it is adjourned (say about 30 minutes). They keep a watch on the return of the Rajya Sabha Secretary General, which signals that the Chairman is about to follow him in a few seconds. When the official arrives, these members start assembling on the aisle and troop to the well thereafter and resume sloganeering.”
Terms of many of these Congress members have ended in the meantime, but there are still enough left to disrupt the proceedings, along with some members from the other parties. But, is the Parliament helpless to what is happening these days? In fact, the step that Vice president Naidu has taken should have been done a long ago.
If the legislature is not able to frame or pass laws, its primary job for the health of Indian democracy, then it is time to take strong counter measures. After all, the nation is wasting crores of rupees when Parliament is not allowed to function. It may be noted that when the Parliament is in session, it costs the national exchequer Rs. 2.5 lakh every minute.
I am not one of those who buy the argument that the Congress is doing what exactly the BJP was doing during the UPA regime. Two wrongs cannot make a right. Arguing that implies that if tomorrow the Congress regains power, the BJP will be allowed to paralyse the Parliament. And that means that until and unless a party or a ruling coalition has majority in both the Houses of Parliament, nothing concrete will move forward in the country. Nothing can be more perverse than an argument like this.
Discipline, decorum and dignity of Parliament are of paramount importance for Indian democracy. And in the initial years of our Parliament, these principles mattered a lot. So much so that in February 1963, when during the President’s address to a joint session of Parliament was heckled by MPs who protested the speech being in English instead of Hindi and one Rajya Sabha member walked out, the next day, members cutting across party lines, condemned the heckling and expressed their regrets in solidarity.
And, in a letter to the Chief Ministers (February 18, 1963), Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described the incident as “… the first of its kind in Parliament” and “most regrettable”. He added, “It is clear that this kind of thing has to be met effectively; otherwise the work of our Parliament and Assemblies would be made difficult and brought into disrepute. This is a vital matter and I hope Parliament will set a good example which will be followed in the State Assemblies.”
I wonder whether Rahul Gandhi, who always points out the glorious “history” of the Congress, and particularly of his family, should also be particular of what Nehru said and wrote. One also remembers how on a much lesser misbehavior by today’s standards, the then Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Dr. S. Radhakrishnan had expunged certain portions of the speech of a member and had remarked(September 27, 1955) : “We want to maintain the good name and dignity of this House. Every one of us is interested in that as much as I am. I do not want it to be said that sometimes these discussions suggest that we are not behaving like serious, responsible Members of Parliament but rather like irresponsible professional agitators. That impression even all members of this House to whatever side they may belong to, should avoid. We must be careful and preserve our good name and our dignity. That is what I am anxious about.”
In my considered opinion, the Presiding Officers of the Parliament (Vice President and Deputy Chairman in Rajya Sabha; Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha) must play a proactive role in taking the support of the Government and majority of the members to restore people’s confidence in Parliament. They have to exercise more frequently their power inherent in the Rules and Procedures of the Parliamentary Practices and take exemplary actions against the members who deliberately create disturbances in the functioning of the Parliament by ignoring or disobeying the Chair.
If the suspended 12 MPs are not regretting their despicable behviour, their suspension-period should be extended to the future sessions of the Parliament as well. Any leniency towards them otherwise is indeed insulting democracy.