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Why Sumitra Mahajan Was Right In Suspending Congress MPs

04/08/2015 2:57 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Indian Parliament house building is seen ahead of its monsoon session, in New Delhi, India, Monday, July 20, 2015. The session is scheduled to begin from July 21. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)

When Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 25 members of the Congress from the House for five days on Monday, Indian National Congress (INC) president Mrs Sonia Gandhi described it as "a black day" for Indian democracy. She conveniently forgot that Speaker Mrs Meira Kumar under the United Progressive Alliance dispensation had on 23 August 2013 suspended 12 MPs (four from the Telugu Desam Party and eight from the INC) for five sittings for disrupting Parliament. Then on 2 September 2013 she again suspended nine MPs (four from the TDP and five from the INCs) for the same reason under the same rule.

The Aam Aadmi Party, which recently became part of parliamentary democracy by forming a government in Delhi, had in May this year used marshals to evict a BJP member of the Delhi assembly because the Speaker of the House concluded that the lone member was disrupting the proceedings.

They and other parties have to explain their own actions before they rush to condemn Speaker Sumitra Mahajan who had to invoke Rule 374 (A) of parliamentary proceedings for automatic suspension of 25 identified MPs from the INC.

Rule 374 (A) of the rule for conduct of business in the Lok Sabha is a part of Chapter XXVII (27) that contains General Rules of Procedure provided for automatic suspension of the members named by the Speaker. The same rule was invoked by Speaker Mrs Meira Kumar in 2013.

Part (1) of this rule says:

"Notwithstanding anything contained in rules 373 and 374, in the event of grave disorder occasioned by a member coming into the well of the House or abusing the Rules of the House persistently and wilfully obstructing its business by shouting slogans or otherwise, such member shall, on being named by the Speaker, stand automatically suspended from the service of the House for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less:

Provided that the House may, at any time, on a motion being made, resolve that such suspension be terminated."

The suspension of any member is not to be celebrated since it creates a bad precedent in a parliamentary democracy that thrives on debate. But there are sometimes no other options when legislators resort to waving placards, shouting slogans and protesting in the well of the House, despite repeated exhortations to maintain some discipline. To allow such uncontained disruption would not create a healthy precedent for a democracy either, and it must be curbed to preserve the sanctity of the House.

If such disruptions are allowed, a handful of members can take the entire house to ransom for anything they consider serious. What should happen when the Opposition demands the resignation of a minister from the Treasury Bench, fully confident that she has committed a grave impropriety -- and when the Treasury Bench is equally confident that nothing of the sort happened? The only way then is to debate the issue. It is improper for the Congress to justify its actions by citing previous instances when the BJP resorted to the politics of disruption. There has to be a sense of proportion.

"To allow such uncontained disruption would not create a healthy precedent for a democracy..."

This is a bizarre case where the government is ready to explain and debate and ask the minister in question to give a statement but the Opposition is not keen to have a dialogue. They want resignation first. Resignation for what? According to her, all she did communicate to the UK authorities that granting Lalit Modi travel documents would not affect UK-India relations. She has since asserted that she did not actively help the tainted IPL commissioner with his travel documents. Now, if you start demanding resignations for "transgressions" of this nature then there'd be no ministers left. It is widely understood that granting and receiving favours is ingrained in our system, with many of these "favours" being far more serious than this case suggests. For example, Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 helped get a US presidential pardon for his acquaintance Adil Shahryar who was convicted for 35 years in a US prison. Compared to that Sushma Swaraj has not done anything.

Coming back to the Lok Sabha Speaker's action, it's not as if she hadn't issued a fair warning. On 22 July, when placard-carrying members of the Left and Congress stormed into the well, she cautioned, "In the event of disorderly conduct, I would be constrained to initiate appropriate disciplinary action against erring members."

At a meeting of presiding officers in Lucknow on 31 January 2015 Mrs Mahajan had raised the issue of automatic suspension of members who come to the well of the House. Other presiding officers had also discussed avenues of action if a lone member disrupted the proceedings of the House and did not allow it to function. The Speaker of the newly constituted Telangana assembly, Mr K Swamy Gaud, had held: "Leaders come into the well for mere publicity rather than to raise a serious issue as they get photographed when they are being taken out by the marshal. I completely support the suggestion that come from the Lok Sabha Speaker about automatic suspension of the member, who comes to the well during sitting of the House."

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