Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 25 Congress MPs for five days on Monday for disrupting proceedings as nine opposition parties decided to boycott the House, worsening a bitter stand-off and dimming chances of key bills being passed in the monsoon session.
Mahajan suspended over half of the party’s 44 LS parliamentarians -- who were carrying placards and shouting slogans demanding the resignation of top BJP leaders over the Lalit Modi controversy and the Vyapam scam -- for "persistently, wilfully obstructing the House".
Experts said the suspension – the first in the current Lok Sabha – was unusual as Mahajan took the decision by herself, prompting Congress president Sonia Gandhi to call it a “black day” for democracy.
"Like in Gujarat where opposition members used to get suspended, similar thing is happening here. It is the Gujarat model which is being implemented," Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, told reporters after a day of ruckus in Parliament.
Since the monsoon session began on July 21, little business has been conducted as an aggressive Congress-led opposition disrupted both Houses demanding the removal of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasnthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje over allegedly helping Modi and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the multi-crore Vyapam recruitment and admissions scandal.
An angry Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were seen holding discussions with other opposition party leaders. Minutes later, a clutch of parties including the Trinamool, Nationalist Congress Party, CPI(M), Aam Aadmi Party and Janata (Dal) United, joined the Congress in boycotting the Lok Sabha.
The pandemonium threatened to derail a host of pending legislation, including the landmark goods and services tax, as experts warned falling investments and the flagging pace of reforms could hobble India’s growth prospects.
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor called Mahajan's invocation of rule 374(A) -- which provides for automatic suspension of a member for five days -- "truly shocking," saying the BJP used the same form of protest when in opposition but none of its lawmakers were ever suspended.
"In the event of grave disorder occasioned by a member coming into the well of the House or abusing the Rules of the House persistently and willfully obstructing its business by shouting slogans or otherwise, such member shall, on being named by the Speaker, stand automatically suspended from the service of the House for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less," the rule says.
The move came in spite of pleas by Trinamool Congress’ Sudip Bandhyopadhyay and CPI(M) leader P Karunakaran that any suspension would aggravate the logjam.
Karunakaran recalled the BJP stalled the Lok Sabha as an opposition party for a month.
"Don't force me to take stringent action...you cannot say they disrupted proceedings so we will also do the same...we cannot denigrate ourselves further," Mahajan said.
Earlier in the day, home minister Rajnath Singh said no justification existed for the opposition’s resignation demands in the absence of any police complaints, court observations or prime-facie case against Swaraj or the two CMs.
"We have not shied away from discussion and we are ready for it," Singh said, pointing out the chief vigilance commissioner hadn’t discovered any wrongdoing.
Before naming them, the speaker repeatedly told Congress members not to display placards and return to their seats.
In the Rajya Sabha, Swaraj denied all allegations against her of helping former IPL boss Lalit Modi.
"...I never requested the British government to give travel documents to Lalit Modi (to travel to Portugal)," she said, triggering a heated discussion on propriety, rules and house privilege.
Last week, Congress member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was suspended for a day after he banged a placard on speaker’s table.