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The Opposition must respect Parliament – analysis

Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Kapil Sibal, in an article in Hindustan Times on September 20, has made baseless allegations against the Narendra Modi government, when he called Parliament Aatmanirbhar (self-reliant), in that it did not need the Opposition voice.

The monsoon session of Parliament was to have 18 sittings spread over 18 days without any break. All necessary arrangements were made in keeping with Covid-19 safety protocols. After consultations with the leaders of various political parties, a schedule was finalised which included dispensing with Question Hour. Unstarred questions, Special Mentions and other business were allowed by the chairpersons of the Houses. The leaders of various parties wanted the session to be concluded early keeping in mind the Covid-19 risk.

The Opposition has repeatedly undermined the mandate given to Prime Minister (PM) Modi. They have been trying to block reform-related bills presented in Parliament. Important legislations such as the Triple Talaq Bill, Enemy Property Bill and Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill were delayed, thanks to the Opposition.

The Opposition has brought disrepute to the institution of Parliament by the conduct of their Rajya Sabha MPs on September 20 during the debate on the farm reforms bills.

After creating a ruckus in Parliament, these parties are trying to lay the blame at the doorstep of the government and the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The Opposition has no respect for the people’s mandate. It is trying to create false narratives.

Democracy does not envisage a consensus on all issues. Every MP is free to express their views without any influence or coercion on subjects which arise in Parliament. But no one has the right to violate the rights and privileges of other members in regard to freedom of speech.

During the debate on the farm bills, 109 members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) were present while only 70 members of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) were in the House as per the attendance register. Some Opposition members had sought a leave of absence. The conduct of parliamentary proceedings in the Rajya Sabha on September 20, under the supervision of the deputy chairman, was strictly as per the constitutional mandate and Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business. The farm bills were discussed for more than the time allocated by the Business Advisory Committee of the Rajya Sabha. The Opposition is trying to create the impression that sense of the House means consensus in the House, which is a clear misrepresentation of constitutional and parliamentary rules. All decisions are taken in Parliament based on the majority.

Allegations regarding the deputy chairman not allowing division on statutory resolutions and amendments sought by Opposition members, while these bills were being passed, are false. There are two basic conditions for seeking division in the House: The member seeking division should be in his seat, and the House should be in order so that the division may be conducted. Some members who demanded division were not in their seats, and this is a matter of record.

The Opposition created all sorts of problems in the House such as tearing the rule book and formula papers of the Chair, sloganeering, manhandling officials of the secretariat and marshals, and standing on the tables of Rajya Sabha officials. Their conduct was not only in violation of the privileges of Parliament for which Parliament can penalise them (eight members were suspended from the service of the House for the remaining session), but also in violation of the Indian Penal Code for which action can be taken as there is no immunity for criminal conduct even in Parliament.

Kapil Sibal also claimed that Question Hour, an essential element of parliamentary democracy, has been dispensed with and that way, executive accountability to Parliament has been eroded.

As per practice on a particular day, in ordinary circumstances, 20 starred and 230 unstarred questions are listed in the Lok Sabha while 15 starred and 160 unstarred questions are listed in the Rajya Sabha. During this session, only starred questions were dispensed with, keeping in view the special circumstances. On a daily basis, the government has replied to 230/160 questions in the respective Houses. A false impression is being created of abrogation of executive accountability to Parliament.

He has also criticised the passage of bills relating to ordinances without reference to the Standing Committees. This is baseless because such bills are usually not referred to committees since they are required to be replaced by Acts of Parliament within six weeks from reassembly of Parliament under Article 123 of the Constitution. It is not practically possible for Committees to examine and give reports on the bills in such a short time.

Sibal made scathing personal attacks attributing different negative aspects to the PM while not saying a single word about his own party’s leader who was missing for the whole monsoon session. All this acrimony on the part of the Opposition in Parliament is symptomatic of a mindset that brooks no tolerance for the people’s mandate and majority in Parliament.

Pralhad Joshi is minister for coal, parliamentary affairs and mines

The views expressed are personal

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