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Revoke suspension of Opposition MPs

A security breach in parliament, which should have been a matter of common concern for all members, has led to a serious confrontation between the ruling party and the Opposition. Last Thursday, 14 Opposition MPs—13 from the Lok Sabha and one from the Rajya Sabha—were suspended from the House for the rest of the winter session, following a ruckus over the demand for a statement by Home Minister Amit Shah on the intrusion of two persons into the Lok Sabha the previous day. In the normal course, the government should have made a suo moto statement on facts available and how the incident was handled. It should have been ready to listen to and debate the Opposition’s views. The nation would have benefited from an informed debate.

Instead, the government chose to expel the most vocal MPs, accusing them of disruptive and riotous conduct. The action turned out to be a comedy of errors when one MP who was not present in the House was also suspended. Explanations like bureaucratic slip-up and mistaken identity are poor excuses and only confirm the charge that disciplinary actions are taken with scant regard for rules and conventions. The Opposition is well within its rights to demand answers from the government and hold it accountable for its acts of omission and commission. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the home minister inappropriately even made statements on the security breach outside parliament, when there was a demand for the government to make a statement inside the House.

Parliament is a forum for discussion and deliberation and not confrontation. Both the government and the Opposition have the responsibility to ensure that it functions well, but the responsibility rests more on the government and the ruling party. The government should give the Opposition space to express itself in parliament. It is when legitimate rights are denied that the Opposition tends to become disruptive. The government is using suspensions, expulsions and privilege moves against Opposition members more frequently than at any time in the past. Such actions also amount to depriving voters of their representation in the House. Suspension is a measure to be used in the rarest of rare cases. The current suspensions should be withdrawn and the government should welcome a debate on the security breach. It should not try to hide behind arguments that the matter concerns the Speaker and not the government, and that the Opposition’s motives are political. Parliament is also a political forum.

(Published 17 December 2023, 20:42 IST)

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