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'Disruption Of Parliamentary proceedings: MP's Privilege Or Facet Of Our Democracy?' Who Said What?

Mehal Jain
19 Sep 2021 7:57 AM GMT
Disruption Of Parliamentary proceedings: MPs Privilege Or Facet Of Our Democracy? Who Said What?
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Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani on Saturday recalled deceased Union Cabinet Minister Arun Jaitely telling her in 2011 that disruption becomes the norm when voices of the people are not heard."What we saw in the monsoon session was the voice of the people, which arises with the anticipation of building a stronger nation, being suppressed by those who seek to discuss...

Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani on Saturday recalled deceased Union Cabinet Minister Arun Jaitely telling her in 2011 that disruption becomes the norm when voices of the people are not heard.

"What we saw in the monsoon session was the voice of the people, which arises with the anticipation of building a stronger nation, being suppressed by those who seek to discuss issues that are drawn by political desire and political consideration. This last session saw not only disruption but even physical acts in front of the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, which brought much disrepute to the House", said Ms. Irani.

She was speaking at the Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture Series, 2nd Edition, on the question "Is the disruption of parliamentary proceedings an MP's privilege and/or a facet of parliamentary democracy?". The other speakers were TMC MP Mahua Moitra, Senior Advocates Gopal Subramanium and Ranjit Kumar, Journalist S. Gurumurthy and Former MP Pavan Varma. Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu was the guest-of-honour. The event also witnessed addresses by AG K. K. Venugopal and SG Tushar Mehta.
Repeating the thought of Law Minister Kiren Rijiju that "all of us who enjoy democracy take pride in our Parliamentary system", Ms. Irani continued to state that the warning signs are when disruption, and not discussion, becomes the norm not because the people are not heard, but because "there are people, who could not win through the ballot, now using disruption as a political instrument to disrepute and disregard the constitutional processes". "Then I think many of us, who believe in the Parliamentary system of democracy, need to consider what the future holds for all of us", said Ms. Irani.
However, she proceeded to remark that irrespective of the disruptions, the monsoon session saw deliberations on supplementary grants and budget-related issues- "When the opposition does consider the Parliament as a platform for engagement where we can put up issues towards our constitutional responsibilities with a modicum of respect, the government and opposition can collaborate for the better of the people, of the country."
Ms. Irani elaborated how, as the Minister for women and child development, she had the distinct privilege of looking at all sides of the house, especially in the Lok Sabha, coming together to bring about an amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act. "This Act is dedicated to the children of our country, children who are not vote-banks in our Parliamentary system. This shows that irrespective of the fact that we may have political and ideological differences, at least on the issue of protection of children in our country, we could bring peace to the house", she said.
"As I speak from the National Highway, the sun has set, but it will rise again with renewed hope and renewed vigour, and it is rising with the fact that the aspirations of our people can only be met through deliberation and dialogue and discussion in a Parliamentary democracy. As we celebrate 75 years of our independence, we need to be mindful that the next 25 years will be better-served if we come together for the betterment of our people. It is with that hope that there are parliamentarians who speak on issues with much passion and vigour. And those who speak on the empty privilege to bring about disruption- when you come to the Parliament with a sense of privilege, remember that ours is a greater responsibility", she signed off.
TMC MP Mahua Moitra
"I wonder how Ram Jethmalani would have reacted to this corrosion of constitutional values today with the complicity of those entrusted to preserve the same! Would Ram Jethmalani consider it anti-national to raise one's voice for the cause of migrant labourers walking hundreds of miles towards their death, while the second highest law officer of the country tells the highest court of the country that there is no such thing happening? Likewise, can someone, who calls out a sexual harasser who was granted a clean chit even without an unbiased inquiry and who was then awarded a Rajya Sabha seat, be threatened with breach of privilege?" (A BJP member had given a breach of privilege notice against Ms. Moitra over her remarks against former Chief Justice of India and now MP, Ranjan Gogoi, in Lok Sabha on February 9)?, began Ms. Moitra.
She spoke of how the government of the day is in "brute majority" and how session after session in the Parliament, and even outside, the voices of 200 MPs are being stifled either by heckling or through the instrumentality of certain quarters of the media which blur the criticism of the government. She commented that brazenness has become the order of the day with leaders being immune to even the Supreme Court. "Thank God that we finally have a Chief Justice who appreciates the separation of power and is posing difficult questions to this government!", remarked Ms. Moitra.
She expressed the view that if the ruling party has power, the opposition must have the right to dissent and protest against an ideology that emerges from such brute majority and fascist intent. She urged that the same is not a demonstration of their privilege by an MP but rather their highest ethical and moral duty as an elected representative.
"Please take it from me as a member of the opposition that our parliamentary proceedings are not only disrupted but also actively subverted and manipulated to the extent that the core of the parliamentary system is shaken. But it is not at the hands of the members of the opposition; it is at the hands of the fascists' forces which cannot handle the slightest hint of pluralism- in thought, in action and in expression", articulated Ms. Moitra.
She stated that protest and dissent are essential facets of a democracy- that the Parliament is the organ of the government which makes laws and in doing so, it carries a phenomenal power, which extends to amending the Constitution. "These are not trivial powers. There are 200 elected members who were sent to the Parliament by those who have no faith in the ruling political party. Every now and then, occasions arise when we must raise our voice against unjust actions! Is it not the duty of the opposition member to rise and to speak truth to power? Can this be termed as disruption?", she asked.
Ms. Moitra contended that when members of the opposition stood up in unity against the 3 controversial farm laws, they were denied the constitutional right to be heard in the Parliament and even their right to call for a vote was overlooked. "When a law is capable of affecting the lives and livelihoods of so many people, who are among the most marginalised, is it correct to name as disruption the demand of the opposition for a proper debate?", she asked.
Touching upon the Pegasus issue which recently took the country by storm, Ms. Moitra said that the episode has the people frightened in their hearts and minds of a totalitarian regime. "When the IT Minister makes a statement in the Parliament which is misleading and in contrast to that of his predecessor, it would have been a shameless abdication of democratic dharma had we not demanded a proper explanation from this government for spying on its own citizens to no justifiable ends, and that too at the cost of the taxpayers' money! When there is concrete evidence that the executive agencies have acted illegally, and potentially even criminally, to encroach upon the privacy of the citizens, does the government expect us to sit silently in the Parliament and not raise our voices?", she asserted.
Ms. Moitra signed off, saying that historically, everyone who has stood up for righteousness has been branded as a disruptor, and that in being disruptive to usher in a new order lies the true privilege of an MP.
Former SG and Senior Advocate Gopal Subramanium
The Senior Advocate spoke that the Parliament is the only institution that is the symbol of the sovereignty of the people. As an institution, it is one of immense credibility, being the only institution to which a government, which comes in power, still remains accountable.
"It is not just a building but the bedrock, the nerve of democracy. The Parliament is an institution which may exercise constituent powers but cannot go against the fabric of the Constitution. It is supreme, but at the same time, controlled by the letter of the Constitution", he remarked.
He expressed that for governments, it is all the more important that the Parliament must always function as it increases their legitimacy by way of such perpetual accountability.
While Mr. Subramanium agreed that the opposing and divergent point of views have to be heard in a democracy, he was of the view that the same cannot be judged with reference to numbers, that numbers do not accord any legitimacy in a parliamentary democracy.
"What do we gain by disruption?", he asked.
"The Constitution envisages a parliamentary process which involves debates, deliberations, issues being raised and questions being asked. The duty of the opposition to be able to gain the space for such speech is an equally important duty. There is no one-sided winner in a parliamentary contest and the ultimate winner is the people", he told.
"Can there be transparency and accountability if the Parliament is not so seen in action? In a country like India, varying ideas have to be encouraged. Our Constitution is a living document and hence, the Parliament must be seen as a living institution. If the Parliament is not to be where debates take place, how will these debates take place? Is our Parliamentary System so vulnerable? If the Parliament is weakened, other pillars of the State are equally weakened. When there is no debate in the Parliament, then weak laws come into being", he concluded.
Former SG and Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar
Mr. Kumar agreed that while walking-out of the house is not disruption but a legitimate form of protest, parliamentary privilege does not imply a free-pass to say 'It is my way or the highway', to abuse or to tear papers, to cause disorder and chaos.
He urged that in engaging in such antics, a member would be doing grave disservice-"1.4 billion people have willed for you to be there. If you don't bring about the needed laws for the country, then you are doing a disservice to the people because of who you are sitting in the house!"
"There is freedom of speech and right to vote under the parliamentary rules, and there is a privilege attached to it. So if there is immunity attached to it, does disruption of parliamentary proceedings become a privilege? One individual's right ends where the other individual's right begins. You have to draw the line where it seems you would be impeding on the rights of other members of the Parliament. There is no freedom of disorder within freedom of speech! This brings not only disrepute to the institution, but also amounts to its contempt", he expressed.
Mr. Kumar cautioned that if the House and its members do not maintain its dignity, the people, in general, will not look up to it. "This dignity does not come from outside, it flows from what you are required to do", he said.
S. Gurumurthy, Editor, Thuglak
Mr. Gurumurthy expressed that democracy is in the process of people working together towards a common goal, but many of the Parliamentarians do not have the knowledge of what parliamentary behavior is. "We need to re-educate our representatives, this role has to be played by the media and other intellectuals", he said.
He stated that while in a parliamentary democracy, there is scope to protest or dissent within the Parliament, the purpose behind the same cannot be ignored. Further, regardless of the importance of the protest, street-like behaviour cannot be condoned. It was his suggestion that the Constitution must be amended to include such misbehavior in the course of business of the legislature as a ground for immediate disqualification of the member.
"If the value of the institution is brought down, what would become of the country? The Parliament is meant for intellectual debate, while disruption can find a place only in street protests and mass politics", he said.
Former MP Pavan Varma
Mr. Varma expressed at the outset that a position where the highest pedestal of democracy is reduced to one where there is no dialogue cannot be backed. However, he added that if there were to be no disruptions, it would be in the interest of the House; that even the opposition would find it more productive to voice their arguments in the form of a civil debate instead of the house being adjourned every other day.
At the same time, he added the government must also acknowledge the right of debate and not scape over such legitimate demands of the opposition as some dispensable accessory.
"How the three farms were passed will remain a blot on democracy. They were rushed through and the procedure was ignored...As regards the Pegasus issue, why must the government be so averse to a discussion? Can they stall debates when there are allegations of unlawful intrusion into the phones of citizens?", he asked.
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