Watch Nidhi Razdan: BJP's suspension of MPs marks a new low for parliamentary discourse Video Credit: Gulf News

It appears that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants an opposition-free Parliament in India. This week, in an unprecedented move, over 140 opposition MPs from both Houses of Parliament were suspended for the rest of the winter session for “disrupting” the proceedings.

The standoff was over demands by the opposition that Home Minister Amit Shah make a statement on the recent security breach in the Lok Sabha, where two people managed to jump from the gallery and spray coloured smoke into the air.

Normally, the government should have volunteered to give a clear statement on the floor of the house about how this breach happened and informed the country about the measures being taken to ensure it does not happen again. However, what followed were a series of suspensions of the protesting MPs.

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Meaningful debate and discussion

Many of them went into the well of the house with placards. The Speaker said it was against the rules to bring placards into the House and promptly suspended them.

Never before has Parliament witnessed this kind of abuse of power. The suspension of the opposition MPs is a drastic step and marks a new low for parliamentary democracy.

What made things worse was the BJP government’s decision to go ahead with a discussion and passage of crucial new laws, including the new criminal code bills, which have far-reaching implications for the country.

The new criminal laws, in particular, are important since they replace the British-era Indian penal code. The bills were passed without most of the opposition present in the House. It is a sad day for democracy when new laws are cleared without any meaningful debate and discussion.

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh said in a post on X that a “complete purge is being executed so that draconian Bills are passed without any meaningful debate.”

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, meanwhile, justified the suspensions, saying that all MPs, at the time of the inauguration of the new Parliament building, had resolved not to come to the Well of the House.

Onus is on government

Unfortunately, this row is also not entirely a surprise. For the last decade, ties between the government and the opposition have been bitter and fraught, with no backchannel dialogue either. With its brute majority, the BJP thinks it does not need to take opposition parties on board.

They are happy to ram through bills without debate if necessary. That’s what happened with the farm laws, which eventually had to be taken back.

Having a majority does not mean stifling the voice of the opposition. Parliamentary democracy is all about giving a voice to all. MPs represent their constituents; they are the voice of the people. That should not be undermined.

For example, during the Monsoon session of Parliament last July, most days were stalled after opposition protests on various issues. But despite the chaos, the BJP government managed to get 22 bills passed, most without any discussion, in a matter of minutes.

According to Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research, the Lok Sabha took an average of ten minutes, and Rajya Sabha an average of half an hour to pass laws. Only 11% of bills in the three years of the 17th Lok Sabha have gone to parliamentary committees.

For several sessions now, Parliament has also been meeting for shorter durations. Proceedings are being adjourned ahead of schedule. Why is the voice of the voter not being heard through their MPs?

The fact is that there are fewer debates, far less scrutiny of bills by parliamentary committees, shorter sessions, no discussions on topics that make the government uncomfortable; questions put by MPs are often just struck off.

Repeated disruptions by the opposition are also not justified, but the onus is on the government to take everyone along and ensure the House functions.