Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday slammed the Opposition for insulting “democracy, constitution, Parliament and the people” by disrupting of proceedings, but the Congress and other parties maintained that protests in both Houses will continue until the government agrees to a debate on the potential use of spyware against politicians, journalists, and activists.
At a meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) parliamentary party, Modi attacked the Opposition for the disruption of Parliament and asked party lawmakers to display restraint so that the dignity of Parliament is maintained, even as they tried everything in their powers to get it to function normally.
But at a breakfast meeting hosted by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, representatives from 15 parties agreed to to stick to their stand on the Pegasus snooping issue. Later, at a key meeting called by vice president Venkaiah Naidu, Opposition leaders said the disruptions will not end unless Pegasus is debated in Parliament.
Since the beginning of the session on July 19, opposition parties have protested in both Houses, disrupting listed business. Some of the parties, including the Congress, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), have demanded a discussion and a reply from the PM or home minister Amit Shah on the Pegasus controversy. They have also sought a roll-back of three controversial central farm laws, and protested against spiralling fuel prices.
As the stalemate continued in Rajya Sabha for the 11th day, the government and the Opposition met at the business advisory committee meeting headed by Naidu. The panel decided to take up eight items of business including seven bills and allotted 17 hours of time, but Opposition leaders maintained that the disruptions will not end unless Pegasus is debated.
In the meeting, TMC and Congress leaders said that there were three urgent issues — price rise and economy, farm laws and Pegasus — and they wanted a debate on the third issue before anything else. Naidu again appealed to all sides to enable normal functioning of the House. The government managers reiterated they were ready to discuss the farm issue, price rise, and the economic situation.
In the Lok Sabha, Speaker Om Birla appealed to Opposition members to restore peace. He announced the several issues related to the farmers were raised in the Question Hour. “I want you (the Opposition) to ask questions to farmers’ issues to the agriculture minister. Parliamentarians who are disrupting the House don’t want to talk about farmers’ issues. You must respect and maintain decorum of this House,” he said.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi said Modi expressed anger at the conduct of some Opposition members at the BJP lawmakers’ meeting. The conduct of the Opposition is an “insult” to Parliament and the Constitution, they have an “undemocratic” attitude and are not keen on meaningful debates Joshi said, quoting the PM.
The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have been able to utilise only 14% and 21% of their allotted times, respectively, according to PRS Legislative research.
The PM is also learnt to have criticised a tweet by TMC’s Derek O’Brien on how the bills have been passed in Parliament without referring to the MP’s name. O’Brien tweeted on Monday: “In the first 10 days, Modi-Shah rushed through and passed 12 Bills at an average time of UNDER SEVEN MINUTES per Bill…Passing legislation or making papri chaat!” , referring to a popular street food.
Union minister V Muraleedharan said the PM referred to the tweet as “derogatory” and an “insult of parliamentary procedure and esteem of elected representatives.”
O’Brien said his intention was to use a cultural idiom to connect with the people and asked if the PM would be happier if he used the word “dhokla” instead, referring to a snack popular in Gujarat. “I am happy to see that we are setting the agenda and the PM is reacting to it,” he said.
The PM has been flagging the issue of disruptions in Parliament for the past two weeks and underlining the need to expose the Opposition’s “attempts to derail the session”. On Tuesday, he said BJP MPs should not give in to provocation, and remain present in the house for parliamentary business.
CPI(M) leader Elamaram Kareem said, “It has never happened in the past that everyday the government is clearing bills amid protests. We are demanding division (vote on bills) but it is not accepted. BJP is destroying parliamentary democracy.”
Analysts pointed to BJP’s similar disruption of Parliament in 2011 and 2012, and its defence of this, with then leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley saying , in early 2011 that “parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic” and then leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj saying, in September 2012 that “it is the government’s job to run Parliament, not that of the Opposition.”
According to an MP present at Tuesday’s meeting, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a presentation on how the economy, after being severely impacted by the pandemic, has picked up in June and July.
A party functionary said the finance minister pointed out that despite the second wave of the pandemic, India’s economy is bouncing back rapidly.
Responding to the Opposition’s criticism over the rushed passage of bills, Joshi tweeted, “Glaring Irony. Derek O’Brien accuses Govt of rushing Bills & fails to note: TMC & Congress are continuously disrupting Parliament, 13 bills passed without discussion in 1 day in Rajasthan, 16 bills passed without discussion in RS during UPA’s regime, Selective Amnesia?”
On Tuesday, the Rajya Sabha passed the Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the Lok Sabha passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 and the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021.