Time for Action against Unruly Parliamentarians
Rarely the BJP veteran and one of India’s tallest leaders, L K Advani, speaks these days. But the very fact that he did express his anguish on December 7 over the way the winter session of the Parliament continues to be paralysed over the Narendra Modi government’s decision to demonetise old notes of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 means that limits of restraint and civility have been crossed by our Honurable Members of Parliament. Advani is right when he lambasts both the government and the Presiding Officer (Speaker) for the way they are handling the issue. In my considered view, both have been extremely lenient on the opposition parties in general and the Congress party in particular by not taking punitive actions against them as enshrined in the rule books of both the Houses.
The demonitisation issue is a sensitive subject over which the nation wants a thorough debate in our Parliament. And that debate, like any debate, requires the viewpoints of both the Opposition and the government. But what we witness instead is that the Opposition leaders make their point repeatedly but when the turn of the government to reply comes, they do not allow the ministers to speak. They put preconditions, come to the well of the House and raise slogans, often very provocative. Amid this din, the Speaker of Lok Sabha still allows the Question Hour to go on; but in the Rajya Sabha nothing happens. And this is an irony, given the fact that in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress forced a general discussion on the subject on the opening day of the session itself. But the next day it changed its stance to join other opposition parties that no more debate would be allowed until the House passed a condolence “over the death of people” because of the lack of cash, though none of the opposition leaders could reply to the Deputy Chairperson’s query on the authenticity of the death-figure. The day after, the opposition’s goal in Rajya Sabha changed further to ensure the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the House before the debate on the subject resumed.
It may be noted that on the first day of discussion on the demonitisation issue, almost all the important opposition leaders had already taken part. But the same leaders are taking an unfair advantage every day now through some “point of order” or the other to repeat their arguments against the government. But whenever anybody from the government’s side stands up to reply, they create chaos, forcing the adjournment of the House. In fact, every morning we do hear “lectures” of Ghulam Nabi Azad, and Anand Sharma, Mayawati, Naresh Aggarwal (Samajwadi Party), Sitaram Yechuri, even though they are allowed to make only brief points. But we do not hear much from the government side as the House gets adjourned by the Chairman or Deputy Chairman after these Opposition leader’s interference.
In fact, this session is not the first of its kind undergoing a paralysis, even though it costs the national exchequer Rs 2.5 lakh every minute when the Parliament is in session. After 2014, the opposition, particularly the Congress, has stalled the 16th Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on several issues including the roles of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in helping fugitive businessman Lalit Modi, the alleged involvement of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan in recruitments-scam (popular known as the Vyapam scam), the controversial statements emanating from the ruling party members on communal and caste violence (Dadri-lynching and beef politics), the “vindictive policy” of the Modi government against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in the “National Herald case”, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill and now the issue of demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,00 notes.
How is the opposition paralysing the Parliament? As already mentioned, it is being done through shouting slogans, displaying placards and storming into the well. Last year, the Congress members gesticulated to the Deputy Speaker, threw papers at him and banged his table, their sole intention being to provoke him to adjourn the House, which he did not do. But the same cannot be said of the Presiding Officers of the Rajya Sabha, including the Vice President. They have been really sensitive to the agitating Congress members, some of whom troop into the well not only to roar and shout but also howl (I watched the Rajya Sabha TV the other day and could not believe senior members competing against themselves in airing out their lungs for howling; with some pressing the sides of their lips for louder sounds). Incidentally, prominent English daily had carried a report not long ago, giving details of the modus operandi of the “Slogan Shouting Congress Elders” in Rajya Sabha.
Let me quote the paper: “The three that stand out (in slogan-shouting) are V Hanumantha Rao, Mohammad Ali Khan and K V P Ramachandra Rao. Whereas the first two are the most vociferous slogan-shouters from the Congress troops in the well of the House, Rao has a unique style: He places his hands over his mouth to produce a howling to disturb proceedings. Vijaylaxmi Sadho, Viplove Thakur and Rajani Patil stand out among women slogan shouters who chip in to keep the Congress flock in the well of the House to respond in unison.” Apart from these, there are a couple of more who occasionally use their lung power to raise the decibel levels, when they suspect that the effort to block the House is losing steam. These include former Union minister Jairam Ramesh, party general secretary Madhusudan Mistry and Raj Babbar. The sloganeers virtually take turns to avoid a sore throat. And as the same paper mentioned, “most of them do not leave the House when it is adjourned (say about 30 minutes). They keep a watch on the return of the Rajya Sabha secretary general, which signals that the Chairman is about to follow him in a few seconds. When the official arrives, these members start assembling on the aisle and troop to the well thereafter and resume sloganeering.”
I am not one of those who buy the argument that the Congress is doing what exactly the BJP was doing during the UPA regime. Two wrongs cannot make a right. Arguing that implies that if tomorrow the Congress regains power, the BJP will be allowed to paralyse the Parliament. And that means that until and unless a party or a ruling coalition has majority in both the Houses of Parliament, nothing concrete will move forward in the country. Nothing can be more perverse than the argument like this.
Discipline, decorum and dignity of Parliament are of paramount importance for the Indian democracy. And in the initial years of our Parliament, these principles mattered a lot. So much so that in February 1963, when the President’s address to a joint session of Parliament was heckled by MPs who protested the speech being in English instead of Hindi and one Rajya Sabha member walked out, the next day, members cutting across party lines, condemned the heckling and expressed their regrets in solidarity. And, in a letter to the Chief Ministers (February 18, 1963), Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described the incident as “… the first of its kind in Parliament” and “most regrettable”. He added, “It is clear that this kind of thing has to be met effectively; otherwise the work of our Parliament and Assemblies would be made difficult and brought into disrepute. This is a vital matter and I hope Parliament will set a good example which will be followed in the State Assemblies.”
I wonder, whether Sonia Gandhi, who always points out the glorious “history” of the Congress, and particularly of her family, should also be particular of what Nehru said and wrote. One also remembers how on a much lesser misbehavior by today’s standards, the then Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Dr. S. Radhakrishnan had expunged certain portions of the speech of a member and had remarked (September 27, 1955) : “We want to maintain the good name and dignity of this House. Every one of us is interested in that as much as I am. I do not want it to be said that sometimes these discussions suggest that we are not behaving like serious, responsible Members of Parliament but rather like irresponsible professional agitators. That impression even all members of this House to whatever side they may belong, should avoid. We must be careful and preserve our good name and our dignity. That is what I am anxious about.”
In my considered opinion, the Presiding Officers of the Parliament (Vice President and Deputy Chairman in Rajya Sabha; Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha) must play a proactive role. They have to exercise their power inherent in the Rules and Procedures of the Parliamentary Practices and take exemplary actions against the members who deliberately create disturbances in the functioning of the Parliament by ignoring or disobeying the Chair. After all, in the past, members resorting to misconduct have been asked by the Chair to withdraw from the House (The Chair can “name” or request the Sergeant-at-arms to remove the disturbing member). The same rules should be resorted to now. There must be punishments to the unruly Members in the form of “admonition, reprimand, and withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House.”
by Prakash Nanda