The Centre and the Opposition on Thursday traded allegations about the chaos that erupted in Parliament during the Monsoon Session, which ended ahead of schedule on Wednesday.
Hours after Opposition leaders took out a protest march against the curtailment of the session, the government’s refusal to discuss the Pegasus surveillance controversy and alleged manhandling of women leaders by marshals in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, seven Union ministers held a press conference to counter their accusations.
The Opposition had alleged that outsiders “who were not part of Parliament security” were brought inside to manhandle MPs, The Tribune reported. They complained to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu about this, but the Centre dismissed it.
Union Textiles Minister Piyush Goyal claimed that Opposition MPs had manhandled marshals, including a woman officer, in Parliament.
“The way they [Opposition MPs] were trying to pull the male marshals by the neck and damage the property of the House, it was a shameful disgrace in the Parliamentary history of India,” Goyal said during Thursday’s press briefing. “It is a clear sign that they are trying to divert from the main issue, which is their misconduct in the house.”
He added: “No one was brought into the Parliament from outside. There were 30 marshals – 18 men and 12 women.”
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi alleged that the Congress and its allies had decided in advance that they won’t allow the Parliament to function. “They did not even allow the very important Bills to be discussed,” Joshi claimed. “Now, they are saying that Bills were passed in the din.”
Joshi also referred to an incident from Tuesday, where Opposition MPs climbed atop officers’ tables in the Rajya Sabha and threw files during a discussions on the farm laws.
The minister said that he had made an offer to the Opposition to extend Parliamentary discussions till August 16. “We had to end the session early because we were threatened [by the Opposition] saying that if we try to pass the OBC [Other Backward Classes] and insurance Bills then you will see a more disastrous situation in Parliament,” Joshi alleged.
Anurag Thakur, the minister of information and broadcasting, demanded that the Opposition apologise for the ruckus they created in Parliament.
“The Opposition’s agenda was to create anarchy,” he alleged. “People want their issues to be raised in Parliament. The Opposition doesn’t care about taxpayers’ money or constitutional values. They should apologise to the country instead of shedding crocodile tears.”
Meanwhile, Rakesh Negi, a security assistant at the Parliament, wrote to the director of the Parliament Security Service, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, alleging that MPs Elamaran Kareem and Anil Desai grabbed him by his neck, causing him to momentarily choke and suffocate, reported ANI.
Another security assistant, Akshita Bhat, alleged that MPs Chhaya Verma and Phulo Devi Netam attempted to help the male legislators breach the security cordon. “Both the female MPs physically and forcefully dragged me by pulling my arms in their attempt to help their male counterparts break the security cordon,” she wrote to the director of security.
Derek O’Brien poses eight questions to Centre
Following the press conference by the Union ministers, Trinamool Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien posed eight questions to the government.
“Why was the prime minister missing during the OBC [Other Backward Caste] debate in Parliament?” O’Brien asked. “Former Prime Ministers Deve Gowda ji and Manmohan Singh ji were there. Where was Prime Minister Modi?”
He asked why 38 Bills were passed in both the Houses within an average discussion time of 10 minutes per Bill. The Trinamool Congress MP also asked why only one Bill out of 10 passed in the Lok Sabha was sent for Parliamentary scrutiny.
At a separate press conference, TMC leaders pointed out that in 2014, 60% to 70% of the Bills were sent to parliamentary committees for a review and claimed the figure for the same was only 11% now, reported PTI. In 2014, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power.
“Why are almost four bills out of every 10 bills ordinances?” O’Brien posed another question. “Earlier it was one or two.” On this, the TMC leader said at the press conference that ordinances are used to pass important bills during an emergency.
Noting that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had answered 22 questions in Parliament during his tenure, O’Brien sought to know why Modi has not answered any question in Rajya Sabha in five years.
“Why in two years, the government hasn’t elected a Deputy Speaker in the Lok Sabha?” he further asked.
In another question, the Trinamool MP sought to know why the government did not allow any discussion on Pegasus spyware row, internal security and the repeal of farm laws.
Lastly, he asked: “Is it the government’s responsibility or the opposition’s responsibility? And who is the government accountable to?”
O’Brien told the ministers to answer even one question of the eight, let alone all the rest.
‘Nothing short of murder of democracy’: Rahul Gandhi
Earlier on Thursday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that Opposition voices in Parliament were suppressed. He made the comments as Opposition MPs held a protest march outside Parliament.
“Today, we had to come out here to speak to you [the media] as we [Opposition] are not allowed to speak in Parliament,” Gandhi told reporters, according to ANI. “We raised the issue of Pegasus. The government refuses to debate Pegasus. We raise the issues of farmers outside the Parliament, because we cannot raise it inside.”
The Congress leader added that this was “nothing short of the murder of the democracy of the country”, NDTV reported.
Gandhi said that for 60% of the country, there had been no Parliament session. “[This is] because the voice of 60% of the country has been crushed, humiliated, and yesterday [Wednesday] in the Rajya Sabha, physically beaten.”
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay and leaders from the Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Kerala Congress and the Muslim League were also present at the protest march.
Ruckus in Parliament on Wednesday
Women Rajya Sabha MPs had on Wednesday alleged that marshals pushed them around the House, the Hindustan Times reported. This happened as the Opposition was protesting against the Insurance (Amendment) Bill.
“The female marshals were stopping us [from protesting],” Congress MP Chhaya Verma told the newspaper. “When we asked them to move away, the male marshals came forward and pushed us. One of my colleagues fell on the floor.”
After their protest march on Thursday, leaders from 11 Opposition parties met Naidu to discuss the events in the Parliament.
“The government used its brute majority to push through its legislative agenda in violation of established procedures, conventions and spirit of parliamentary democracy,” a joint statement from the Opposition said, according to The Tribune.
It added: “To divert attention from its own conduct and actions, the government has unleashed a state-sponsored, malicious and misleading campaign by blaming the combined Opposition for the disruption of Parliament.”
“What happened in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday was shocking, unprecedented, sad and an insult to the very dignity of the House and humiliation of the members of the august House,” they added.
The Opposition criticised the Centre for its “authoritarian attitude and undemocratic actions”. “We remain committed to continuing our struggle against the assault on parliamentary democracy and agitate on the issues of national importance and people’s concern,” the Opposition said.
Disruptions during Monsoon Session
The Monsoon Session of Parliament had been chaotic since the beginning. Opposition parties remained firm on their demand that the Centre discuss the Pegasus surveillance controversy in Parliament. They also criticised the Centre for the farm laws and the sharp increase in prices of fuel and other commodities in the country.
The accusations came to light last month through an investigative project involving Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International and 17 media organisations from across the world, including Indian news website The Wire. They accessed database reflecting phone numbers of potential targets of surveillance.
The possible targets in India included over 40 journalists, two Union ministers, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, former Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra and the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment, among others.
Despite repeated demands from the Opposition, the government has refused to entertain a discussion on the matter. In response to a question, the defence ministry told the Parliament earlier this week that it did not have any transaction with Pegasus maker NSO Group. However, the government has not stated categorically that it did not procure and use the spyware.