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Parliament, democracy in suspension

The continuing suspensions of members, coming in hefty instalments in the last few days, have almost completely emptied parliament of the Opposition. Members have been suspended from both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and it is an extraordinary situation when members are suspendeden masseday after day. Fourteen MPs were suspended for the remainder of the session last week. Thirty-three from the Lok Sabha and 45 from Rajya Sabha, all belonging to the I.N.D.I.A group,were suspended on Monday. As many as 49 were suspended on Tuesday, bringing the total number of suspensions in this session to 141. The conduct of some members has been referred to the privileges committee. They will remain under suspension till the committee clears them. Others will be under suspension for the rest of the winter session. Action has not been taken against so many members in any previous session of parliament.

All the suspensions are a consequence of the Opposition’s demand for a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah in parliament over the security breach in the Lok Sabha last week. The government has not cared to do so and unfortunately both leaders chose to make statements on the breach outside parliament, which can be considered a violation of the privileges of parliament. MPs have the right to demand a statement from the government on such an important matter and a discussion on it. That is what parliament is for. The nation would benefit from the debate and also has a right to it. The government has tried to evade it on technical and other untenable grounds. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister is above the norms, conventions and demands of parliament, and egos should not come in the way of parliamentary responsibilities, as the Opposition has pointed out.

The government side has argued that the Opposition members have been suspended for their unruly conduct. Opposition members often resort to unruly conduct in frustration over denial of their rights. It is the government’s responsibility to take the Opposition along and ensure that parliament functions well. The Supreme Court has also said that long suspensions from parliament or state assemblies are unconstitutional and are equivalent to expulsion. The bills which are passed without the presence of the Opposition will lack legitimacy. With much of the Opposition pushed out and forced to protest outside, what remains is a crippled parliament, and a crippled democracy resulting from it. Such massive externment of the Opposition happens only in authoritarian countries. Parliament is at the heart of the constitutional system of the country and it should not be reduced to a farce.

(Published 19 December 2023, 23:11 IST)

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