Harivansh Singh, the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, wrote to the President of India on Tuesday, saying he is “in deep anguish, stress and mental pain for the last two days”. Singh claimed that “the scene, which occurred in front of me in Rajya Sabha on September 20, has caused an unthinkable damage to the dignity of the Chair and the House”. He added that he had a sense of anguish, and so was going on a 24-hour fast to “awaken the sense of introspection”. Not in himself, but in “the honourable members who behaved in such a way”.
The actions of the Opposition members Singh is referring to may indeed have been cause for some annoyance. But the real anguish, the actual “unthinkable damage to the dignity of the Chair and the House” was caused by the deputy chairman himself, when he announced the passage of two extremely significant agriculture Bills without actually checking to see whether a majority of MPs would vote in favour.
Singh resorted to a voice vote – in which MPs yell out whether they are for or against the Bill – without allowing for a division of votes, which would require the actual numbers to be tallied, even though that was the Opposition demand and any member has the right to call for one on any vote. There were genuine questions about whether the government had sufficient numbers to pass the Bills, since it does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha and parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and the Biju Janata Dal that normally vote with the ruling party spoke against the Bill.
Yet the Bills are now law, deepening the sense that the Bharatiya Janata Party is treating Parliament merely as a rubber stamp and that democratic norms meant to act as a check on the excesses of the ruling party have been thrown by the wayside.
To add insult to injury, Chairman Venkaiah Naidu dismissed a 12-party motion for a vote of no-confidence against the deputy chairman for his questionable actions, just as he had dismissed a motion to impeach a Supreme Court justice in 2018, even though there were valid grounds in both cases for the Rajya Sabha to actually examine the actions of both of those individuals.
It is clear that the BJP and its appointees who are supposed to be non-partisan when they take the chair of the house do not care about upholding even the semblance of democracy in Parliament. The consequences of such an attitude ought to be the true cause for “deep anguish, stress and mental pain”, not just for the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha but for every Indian citizen who believes in the democratic procedures laid down in the Constitution.