Eight opposition members of the Rajya Sabha were suspended on Monday for the rest of the session over the chaos in the House during Sunday’s passing of the farm bills. However, the members, including Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien, Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay singh, Congress’s Rajeev Satav and CPM’s KK Ragesh, refused to leave.
Hours later they did eventually depart, but went only as far as the parliament lawns, where they spread out sheets and staged a sit-in holding up placards that read – “We will fight for farmers” and “parliament assassinated”.
The MPs spent the night on the lawns of the parliament building before joining other opposition leaders to walk to President Ram Nath Kovind’s official residence to bring his attention to the issue.
The suspended members, who were told they had displayed “unruly behavior especially with the Chair and gross disorderly conduct”, had refused to leave the House while the opposition protested loudly against the action, causing five adjournments of the Rajya Sabha.
The opposition said the members should have been given a chance to explain and demanded a vote on their suspension, but the Rajya Sabha said the decision was based on a government motion.
“I am pained at what happened yesterday. It defies logic. It is a bad day for Rajya Sabha,” said Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu.
He said the members threw papers, wrenched mics away, “physically threatened” Deputy Chairman Harivansh Singh and even abused him.
“I am naming Mr Derek O Brien. Please go out of the house,” Mr Naidu said, as he named the suspended members.
But the eight suspended MPs didn’t budge, even after the house adjourned, and one of them even called for a blanket and pillows for an overnight stake-out. Later, they protested on the lawns of the parliament complex.
“When the chairman names a member then that member has to leave the House. Never before has a member defied the orders of the Chair. Eight suspended MPs had misbehaved, it was a type of ”goondaism”. They have proved that they have no trust in democracy,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi told reporters.
Two of the government’s three farm bills, which have led to massive protests by opposition parties and farmers, were passed on Sunday amid an uproar in the Rajya Sabha.
Sanjay Singh and Rajiv Satav climbed onto the Secretary General’s table at the centre of the house, Derek O’Brien waved a rulebook in front of the Chairperson and tried to tear it up and some members pulled out mics at their seats. A few members also tore up copies of the bills.
At one point, marshals formed a wall between the Deputy Chairman and the protesting members.
The bills, which were cleared in the Lok Sabha earlier, will now go to the President for sign-off before becoming law.
The opposition, which lacked the numbers to block legislation, had called for the farms bills to be sent to a select committee for review. They had also asked for the discussion to be extended. Harivansh Singh refused and allowed Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar to continue his reply before voting on the bills.
The row escalated when the opposition demanded physical voting but Harivansh Singh refused. Opposition members ran to the Chair, attempted to tear up the rule book and tried to snatch the Deputy Chairman’s mic. A voice vote took place amid slogans from the opposition.
The manner in which bills were passed on Sunday was “murder of democracy”, said the opposition.
“Muting Of Democratic India continues: by initially silencing and later, suspending MPs in the Parliament and turning a blind eye to farmers’ concerns on the black agriculture laws. This ‘omniscient’ government’s endless arrogance has brought economic disaster for the entire country,” tweeted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress also posted: “Absolutely unbelievable! BJP MURDERED democracy by ruthlessly silencing all the opposition leaders in Rajya Sabha on Sunday. Citizens of the nation, raise your voice before we’re completely under Narendra Modi’s dictatorship! #BJPKilledDemocracy”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a Bihar event via video link, dedicated much of his speech to defending the farm bills, calling them “historic and necessary” for the country to move forward in the 21st Century. He said the opposition was misleading farmers with lies about them being cheated out of Minimum Support Price (MSP) as they “felt control slipping away”.
The government says the bills will make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to big buyers, reform antiquated laws and remove middlemen from agriculture trade, allowing farmers to sell to institutional buyers and large retailers. But the opposition argues that farmers will lose their bargaining power if retailers have tighter control over them. The parties also believe the proposed laws will destroy wholesale markets which ensure fair and timely payments to farmers, weaken the state’s farmers by ranging them against big business, and hit the overall state economy.