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Week in Parliament

For some days, the Opposition was aggressive because issues like price-rise and GST revisions had become hot. But the second week was an opportunity to start a new chapter.

DEEPAK RAZDAN | New Delhi |

The Monsoon Session’s second week began on a happy note on Monday morning when newly-elected President Droupadi Murmu took the oath of office in the Central Hall of Parliament.

The same afternoon four Opposition members of the Lok Sabha from the Congress Party were suspended for the rest of the session for violating Rules and disregarding the authority of the Chair.

Over the next three days, 23 members of the Rajya Sabha were also suspended from the House for the rest of the week for similar reasons. After the wash-out of the first week of the session, the second week could have been utilized to discuss important issues and legislation.

Instead, the Government and the Opposition appeared on a path of continuing confrontation. For some days, the Opposition was aggressive because issues like price-rise and GST revisions had become hot. But the second week was an opportunity to start a new chapter.

The Opposition members, however, continued to rush to the wells of the two Houses, displaying placards on different issues. They were blocking the view of the presiding officers also. The Opposition parties have stalwarts and they know that other than the Opposition and the Government trying to outsmart each other, the two Houses have presiding officers whose responsibility is to maintain order to allow a respectable debate.

The Opposition must realize when the Treasury Benches are strong, a presiding officer can be the best friend of the Opposition. The Opposition members cannot err beyond what a presiding officer may overlook.

The Government had agreed to a discussion on price-rise and wanted time only till Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recovered from Covid-19. The opposition’s patience on the issue could have been productive.

A discussion could have brought out the seriousness of the issue. Disruption of the first week in both Houses of Parliament, watched by the whole country on television, was sufficient to draw public attention. By persisting with slogan-shouting and placard display, the Opposition was reducing its options. The Government was clear with its stand. It was ready to discuss any issue with proper notices.

On Monday, the proceedings of the two Houses began at 2 pm because of the swearing-in of the President. Just as the Question Hour started, a few Opposition members came to the well of the Lok Sabha. There were interruptions when the first Question was being answered. Speaker Om Birla counseled that if the members continued to interrupt and show placards, he would be left with no alternative but to take disciplinary action.

The members should have seen this as a clear warning. Birla had expressed his displeasure on the matter the previous week too. He said he was ready to hold the discussion sought by the Opposition. The Government too was ready for this, he said. A few minutes later, when the members continued raising the placards, Birla said he was giving a final warning, and said he would act to save the dignity of the House. After 3 pm, he said the erring members would be able to display placards only outside the House.

At 3 pm, Rajendra Agrawal took the Chair and repeated that the Speaker had agreed to the discussion the members wanted. Finally, he named the four Congress members Manickam Tagore, T N Prathapan, S Jothimani, and Ramya Haridas, and a motion for their suspension for the rest of the session was moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi was adopted.

The next day, 19 Opposition members were suspended in the Rajya Sabha till the end of the week, after repeated warnings by Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Deputy Chairman Harivansh. On Wednesday, Sanjay Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was suspended for having torn some papers and thrown them toward the Chair.

The Rajya Sabha suspensions resumed on Thursday when three more Opposition members were suspended. A week, full of promise, was thus curtailed and lost the participation of the Opposition on several important issues.

The last two days saw chaos over the Leader of the Congress Party in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s controversial description of the office of the President in Hindi. Chowdhury said it was a slip of the tongue, but Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Irani maintained he had deliberately shown disrespect to the President.