Forty-nine Indian opposition lawmakers, who have been demanding a debate on a December 13 parliament security breach, were suspended from the legislature on Tuesday for allegedly disrupting House proceedings.
Tuesday’s government action came a day after 78 opposition members of parliament were suspended from the remainder of the crucial Winter Session of the parliament. In total 141 lawmakers – 95 from the lower house (Lok Sabha) and 46 from the upper chamber (Rajya Sabha) – have been suspended since December 14.
The opposition has dubbed the government move a “mockery of democracy”, as important legislation will be passed without any debate undermining parliamentary democracy.
The opposition has been demanding a debate on the security breach on December 13, when two men had jumped into the chamber of the lower house from the visitors’ gallery and opened gas canisters. Their visitor’s pass was provided by a legislator from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“A complete purge is being executed so that draconian Bills are passed without any meaningful debate, and so that the BJP MP who facilitated the entry of the two intruders into the Lok Sabha on December 13th goes scot-free,” Congress Member of Parliament Jairam Ramesh posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to investigate the matter but rebuked the opposition for demanding the debate.
Here is what to know:
Why did India suspend 141 lawmakers?
Presiding officers of the upper and lower house suspended the opposition lawmakers for disrupting proceedings after the legislators demanded a discussion and a statement from Home Minister Amit Shah regarding last week’s security breach during which two men opened gas canisters inside the lower house chamber while a man and woman opened smoke canisters outside the parliament in the capital New Delhi.
Police filed charges against five individuals in connection with the breach that has triggered a political row, with the opposition accusing the government of failing to provide security on the 22nd anniversary of a deadly attack on the parliament.
The speaker of the lower house, Om Birla, has said that security is his responsibility and is conducting a review. He has blamed the MPs for breaking the rules of the House. The federal home ministry is also investigating the breach.
Political analysts have questioned the suspensions. “MPs have all the right to seek answers and hold the government accountable to the parliament,” academic and author, Apoorvanand, told Al Jazeera.
He said that the government justified the move saying that the opposition was suspended for creating a ruckus and being unruly, hindering the functioning of the parliament.
The government plans to introduce contentious bills to replace the existing criminal laws in parliament without two-thirds of the opposition members present in the House.
Apoorvanand, the academic, said that the prime minister’s refusal to interact with the opposition undermines democracy which is “the dialogue between majority and minority”.
Was the move politically motivated?
The suspension essentially emptied the parliament of the opposition, with analysts saying the mass suspensions are unprecedented and in line with Modi’s authoritarian style of functioning.
Critics have said the current government has misused investigating agencies and other institutions to target opposition leaders.
“Is it only the opposition that is involved in corrupt practices?” Apoorvanand asked.
“There have been numerous cases where [investigation agencies] ED [Enforcement Directorate] or CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] start an investigation against certain politicians who then join the BJP and the investigation stops.”
A firebrand opposition legislator Mahua Moitra, who is known for her sharp questions in parliament, was expelled over an allegation of misconduct. She has deemed her expulsion politically motivated. She has approached the country’s top court against her removal.
Main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s parliamentary membership was cancelled after he was convicted in a defamation case by a local court in Gujarat state – Modi’s home state. Gandhi returned to the parliament after his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in August.
The governing party has justified the government’s actions saying the opposition is corrupt and power hungry.
The lawmakers are gone, how will the parliament function?
Parliamentary processes can carry on, following the suspension of the opposition lawmakers, as the quorum of 10 percent will be met by the governing party and its allies with an overwhelming majority.
While bills are typically passed following a discussion in parliament, they have been passed without any discussion numerous times in the past.
“Using the power of numbers to throttle all other voices is contrary to democratic principles,” academic Apoorvand said.
What did the Indian government say?
Modi, in an interview with a Hindi-language newspaper, said what had happened was very serious and there should be a detailed investigation into it, but “there was no need to debate this”.
What has the opposition said?
Opposition lawmakers reacted by saying the government was being dictatorial. They continue to protest “against the murder of democracy and violation of the dignity of Parliament” through silent demonstrations, Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the main opposition Congress party, on Tuesday posted on X.
Took part in a protest along with INDIA MPs at New Parliament gate against historic suspension of almost all the Opposition MPs from both houses–Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. pic.twitter.com/Fo4W9FaVzM
— Samirul Islam (@Samirul65556476) December 19, 2023
“First, intruders attacked Parliament. Then Modi govt is attacking parliament & democracy,” Kharge, on Monday, said on X.
“With an opposition-less parliament, the Modi govt can now bulldoze important pending legislations, crush any dissent, without any debate.”
First, intruders attacked Parliament.
Then Modi Govt attacking Parliament & Democracy
All Democratic norms are being thrown into the dustbin by an autocratic Modi Govt by suspending 47 MPs.
We have two simple and genuine demands –
1. The Union Home Minister should make a…
— Mallikarjun Kharge (@kharge) December 18, 2023
Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha also condemned the government, deeming the suspension a badge of honour. “Congratulations to Modi ji on an opposition-mukt [opposition-less] Parliament,” Jha said.