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Is Opposition-mukt parliament the goal?

The suspension of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Raghav Chaddha from the Rajya Sabha, which happened in August, has assumed fresh dimensions with the MP taking the matter to the Supreme Court and the court deciding to review the power of the Rajya Sabha Chairman to suspend an MP. The court has issued notice to the Rajya Sabha secretariat for its response on Chaddha’s contention that the Chairman did not have the power to suspend him when an enquiry was pending into a charge against him. He was suspended for allegedly not obtaining the consent of five MPs before recommending their names to a select committee. An enquiry by the privileges committee of the House is on. Apart from the issue of the Chairman’s power of suspension and the procedural issues involved, the action against Chaddha highlights the issue of the harsh treatment that Opposition MPs are receiving in the House. 

Four Opposition MPs were suspended during the winter session of parliament for “gross violation of rules and misconduct,” for “disturbing the House”, for “continuously and wilfully disturbing the proceeding”, for “disobeying the Chair” or for “unruly behaviour”. While the Opposition MPs faced such treatment, no action has been taken against BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri, who used the most communally abusive and offensive remarks to a fellow MP, Danish Ali, in the House. Parliament has long ceased to be a forum for reasoned and decorous debate. It has become a platform for mutual name-calling, ruckus, and disruptive behaviour. Both sides are to blame for this. But it is mainly the ruling party’s responsibility to ensure that parliament functions in order and its business is transacted well. Much of the disruption and disorder happens when the Opposition feels it is not given its due role and its voice is stifled and when the treasury benches behave callously and arrogantly. 

The trend of suspending Opposition MPs is increasing in parliament. That can only weaken parliament. No-one would be convinced that all these are genuine cases of offence or misconduct warranting such strict action. In a parliamentary democracy, the government should be erring on the side of generosity in parliament to give space to the Opposition. In the case of Chaddha, it is for the right forums to take the decisions on  the procedural and legal issues involved in the suspension. But the offence that he is charged to have committed does not seem to be serious enough to suspend him from the House for an indefinite period. Such relentless attacks on the Opposition and actions against them lead to the conclusion that what the government wants is an Opposition-mukt parliament.

(Published 24 October 2023, 19:10 IST)

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