A face-off between the government and the opposition over an urgent discussion on a price hike and a hike in GST rates on Monday with Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla suspended four Congress MPs for the remainder of the current session. Misconduct”. Accusing the government of trying to “intimidate” the opposition, Congress said it will “continue to fight”.
The MPs – Manickam Tagore, Ramya Haridas, T N Pratapan and S Jothimani – were named by Rajendra Agarwal, who was the Speaker under Rule 374, to display placards in the House. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi then read out a motion demanding his suspension for the rest of the session, which was passed by voice vote. The monsoon session ends on 12 August.
While the opposition has been demanding an urgent discussion on price hikes and hikes in GST rates of essential commodities, the government has said that it is open to discussion, but it can happen only after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recovers from COVID-19.
When the House met at 2 p.m., the Speaker said that the government was ready for discussion as per the demand of the opposition. He asked the members not to show placards and said that they would be left with no option but to take action to maintain the dignity of the House. With the opposition distrustful, Birla reiterated the warning. “I request you again that it is the responsibility of the members to maintain the dignity of the House. Whoever shows placards…I am telling you for the last time…they will not be allowed to be part of the proceedings.”
Before adjourning the House till 3 pm, Birla said: “If you want to have a discussion, I am ready to start the discussion at 3 pm. But if you want to display placards and indulge in slogan shouting… then after 3 pm, you will have the right to show placards and shout slogans outside the House… this House cannot function like this. I am requesting you for the last time… those members who show placards before the Chair, who want to break the dignity of the House… after 3 pm, they will get adequate time and opportunity outside the House.”
The protests continued when the House resumed its proceedings at 3 pm. Agrawal then invoked Rule 374 and named the members, saying they had shown “stubborn behaviour”, “deliberate and persistently obstructing proceedings” and ignoring the rules of the House and the directions of the Speaker.
Joshi moved the motion which said, “That this House having taken serious note of the misconduct of Manickam Tagore, T N Prathapan, S Jothimani and Ramya Haridas and utter disregard to the House and the authority of the Chair and having been named by the Speaker resolve that the above-mentioned members be suspended from the service of the House for the remainder of the session under Rule 374(2)”.
According to Rule 374, “The Speaker may, it deems it necessary, name a member who disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business thereof.” Rule 374 (2) says “if a member is so named by the Speaker, the Speaker shall, on a motion being made forthwith put the question that the member (naming such member) be suspended from the service of the House for a period not exceeding the remainder of the session.”
Congress said the action against the MPs was a “blot on democracy” and accused the government of trying to “intimidate” the opposition to raise people’s issues.
“We have only two demands: withdrawal of GST on essential commodities and a discussion on price rise. We have been demanding this for the last six days. We have been giving adjournment notices every day but the government is not relenting. There is no unruly behaviour by us. We did not hurt the dignity or decorum of the House. It is our right to protest when the government doesn’t listen to our legitimate demand for a discussion on the hardships faced by the people,” Jothimani told The Indian Express.
The government, she said, is afraid of holding a discussion. “The government says let Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman return, and they will hold a discussion. Remember it was Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who replied to a discussion on the farm laws. And it was the late Arun Jaitley who replied to a discussion on the Rafale issue. He was the Finance Minister then and Sitharaman was the Defence Minister,” she said.
“So all these are excuses to avoid a discussion. Why can’t the Prime Minister come to the House? He is the head of the government. He can listen to the discussion and answer. It is our legitimate right to seek a discussion in Parliament. This government thinks they can scare us by suspending us. That is not going to happen. We will continue our fight. If raising the issues of people on the floor of Parliament is a crime, we will commit that crime again and again,” she added.
Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that the government is resorting to suspension to suppress the voice of the opposition. “I must appreciate the moral truth and fearlessness of those suspended members and will redouble our efforts to expose the anti-people policies of this government,” he said.
Coming out in support of the MPs, BSP leader Danish Ali tweeted: “How unfortunate that two young women MPs from weaker sections (Haridas and Jotimani) have been suspended from the Lok Sabha only for demanding discussion on the price hike, The same day when a woman from an oppressed class took oath as the President of India.