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Government, Opposition spar outside House over chaos inside

By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Aug 13, 2021 07:48 AM IST

The government urged Rajya Sabha chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu to set up a special committee to probe allegations that some Opposition members manhandled security staff and damaged House property and demanded action against those found guilty of violating norms and decorum.

 The Union government on Thursday launched a broadside against the Opposition over disruptions in Parliament and fielded eight ministers to argue that protests were orchestrated to derail proceedings, prompting angry rebuttals from the Opposition as acrimony that characterised the just-concluded monsoon session spilled outside the House.

Since it began on July 19, the monsoon session was roiled by furious protests.(Mohd Zakir/HT file photo)

The government urged Rajya Sabha chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu to set up a special committee to probe allegations that some Opposition members manhandled security staff and damaged House property and demanded action against those found guilty of violating norms and decorum.

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“…We were threatened, that if you attempt to pass more bills [after a bill restoring states’ rights to identify other backward classes (OBC)] then more disastrous situation is going to happen. In unambiguous terms it was told to us,” said Union minister for parliamentary affairs Pralhad Joshi, arguing that raucous protests by the Opposition forced the government to cut short the session.

In response, Opposition members said the government stonewalled their demands, muzzled their voice inside Parliament, and violated House norms by rushing bills without debate. Opposition members protested outside the House, and met Naidu to lodge their objections to the government’s conduct.

“They don’t let us talk in Parliament. Yesterday, for the first time in the history of our country, members of the Rajya Sabha were manhandled and physically beaten. This was nothing short of murder of democracy,” said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

In an unprecedented move, eight Union ministers were deployed to list the outreach efforts made by the government to break the deadlock with the Opposition. The government asserted that it was willing to be accommodative regarding discussions, but that the Opposition was not interested.

“From the first day, even at the all-party meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, there were indications that the Opposition will not allow the House to run. It was made clear by the Trinamool Congress and the Congress who said this session will be a washout,” Joshi said.

He was flanked by commerce minister Piyush Goyal, labour minister Bhupender Yadav, education minister Dharmendra Pradhan, minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, junior foreign minister V Muraleedharan, information and technology minister Anurag Thakur and junior parliamentary minister Arjun Ram Meghwal.

Joshi said senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders reached out to the Opposition with a request that, at least on the opening day, they should allow the ministers to be introduced. “…That was also not allowed,” he said, alleging that the disruption was orchestrated and pre-planned.

The Opposition trained its guns on the government for rushing bills without any debate or discussion, and also sidestepping scrutiny by parliamentary committees.

“The government may claim that they have passed so many laws, but was that democratic? Was there discussion? Was there a consensus on the passage of those laws, the answer is No,” said Congress leader Anand Sharma. “We remain committed to continue our fight...” he said, following a meeting of Opposition leaders with Naidu.

The Opposition also released a joint statement.

“The Opposition strongly condemns the authoritarian attitude and undemocratic actions of the government. We remain committed to continue our struggle against the assault on Parliamentary democracy and agitate the issues of national importance and people’s concern,” a joint statement by Opposition parties said.

Since it began on July 19, the monsoon session was roiled by furious protests. Opposition members demanded debates on the Pegasus snooping controversy, farm laws and price rise but were unsuccessful.

As the session progressed, Parliament further descended into chaos as members trooped into the Well of the House, tore and snatched papers and shouted slogans against the government, leading to suspensions. Opposition members claimed the government was stonewalling the House and rushing through key legislations without any debate.

The session ended on Wednesday -- two days ahead of schedule -- with Naidu in tears and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla ruing the fact that very little business was done.

Naidu and Birla met on Thursday to discuss the unruly scenes in Parliament. “They strongly felt that such unruly behaviour should not be tolerated and appropriate action should be taken,” the vice-president secretariat tweeted.

UNRULY SCENES

The government and Opposition squared off over ugly scenes that played out in the House of Elders in its final hours on Wednesday as the government sought to push the insurance amendment bill even as the Opposition demanded it be sent to a select committee. Some Opposition members clashed with marshals, tore papers, flung files and climbed atop tables to shout slogans.

Hours later, two women Congress members, Chayya Varma and Phulo Devi Netam, alleged they were manhandled by the marshals. Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said security personnel from outside Parliament were deployed in the House.

“In 55 years of my parliamentary career, I have never seen this kind of behaviour towards women MPs in the August House. More than 40 men and women were brought into the House from outside. It is an attack on democracy,” he told reporters.

But the government refuted their allegations. Yadav said CCTV footage from the Upper House showed that women marshals were pushed and shoved by the lawmakers. “A woman MP is seen in the footage manhandling the marshal who was on duty. Does it behove any MP to do so?” he said.

Goyal, who is also leader of the House in Rajya Sabha, said Pawar was “misinformed”. “The way the lady marshal was manhandled by two Congress MPs, the way they attacked House property, it was a disgrace...12 women and 18 men marshals were deployed because it was necessary, they were not outsiders,” he said.

“I would ask him (Pawar) to introspect on the behaviour of his colleagues in Opposition. Does he condone the behaviour of the opposition...” he asked.

TRADING CHARGES

Leaders of several Opposition parties on Thursday marched in protest against the government on several issues, including the Pegasus row, farm laws, and alleged manhandling of their MPs in Rajya Sabha, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi saying the voice of people was crushed in Parliament and democracy was “murdered”.

TMC leader Derek O’Brien targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah for “disrespecting parliamentary rules” and said that the onus of running the House rests on the government. He posed eight questions to the government, related to the PM’s presence in the House, rushing bills without a discussion and lack of debate on Pegasus and farm laws. He said as the Opposition, it was their right to protest and raise issues concerning the people.

In response, the Union ministers asserted that the demands to have discussions on the farm laws, Covid-19 and even the Pegasus snooping controversy were agreed to, but the Opposition kept changing goalposts. On the specific demand for a discussion on Pegasus, Joshi said as per the procedure when the minister had made a suo motu statement on the issue, the Opposition had a chance to ask questions and seek clarifications but they chose to tear the statement and disrupt the House. He was referring to the statements made by information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Lok Sabha on July 21 and Rajya Sabha on July 22.

Thakur said the Opposition unleashed anarchy from the “streets to Parliament”. “Instead of shedding crocodile tears they should apologise to the people,” he said.

The Opposition claimed that not only did the chair not agree to take up discussions on issues they wanted to raise, their speeches were not telecast live and their microphones muted when they referred to Pegasus and farm laws.

SESSION CUT SHORT

The Opposition blamed the government for failing to run the House, but Joshi said the government’s efforts to run the House and stick to the original schedule of running the House till August 13 bore no results as the Opposition created a situation that created hurdles. “We had been requesting them to allow discussion, we are ready to hold the session till Monday…” he said.

TMC’s Sukhendu Shekhar Ray, however, said that there was no such suggestion.

Goyal said Opposition lawmakers refused to apologise even after creating a ruckus in the House, tearing Vaishnaw’s statement and throwing a rule book towards the chair. He was referring to Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa’s statement that he will not apologise for his behaviour in the Rajya Sabha and was ready for any action for raising his voice against the farm laws.

“A woman marshal was hurt; the glass injured her neck. On the 9th, they threw a rule book towards the chair. We have asked the chairperson to take strict action. Leave aside apologise they are saying they will do so again,” Goyal said.

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