Eight opposition members of the Rajya Sabha, suspended yesterday over the massive chaos when controversial farm bills were passed on Sunday, spent the night on the lawns of the parliament complex and declared that they were on an indefinite protest. They had yesterday refused to leave the Rajya Sabha, which was adjourned five times.
When the members, including Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien, Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay singh, Congress’s Rajeev Satav and CPM’s KK Ragesh, did leave the Rajya Sabha, they moved their protest to the parliament lawns, near Mahatma Gandhi’s statue, where they spread out sheets and sat holding up placards that read – “We will fight for farmers” and “parliament assassinated”.
This morning, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh went to them with tea and served it in cups, but they rebuffed his “tea diplomacy”, calling him “anti-farmer”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi came out strongly in support of Harivansh. “To personally serve tea to those who attacked and insulted him a few days ago as well as those sitting on Dharna shows that Shri Harivansh Ji has been blessed with a humble mind and a big heart. It shows his greatness. I join the people of India in congratulating Harivansh Ji,” PM Modi tweeted.
The Deputy Chairman is at the heart of opposition protests; their no-confidence motion against him was rejected yesterday by Chairman Venkaiah Naidu.
With pillows, blankets, two fans and mosquito repellants, the suspended members pulled off their first all-nighter. “We would like the government to know that this is an indefinite protest,” Derek O’Brien told reporters.
Opposition leaders from several parties visited them in solidarity, including National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, Samajwadi Party’s Jaya Bachchan and Congress leader Ahmed Patel. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh sat with them for almost four hours.
Derek O’Brien said opposition MPs had sent food from their homes at regular intervals, especially for two 65-plus diabetic members — Congress leader Ripun Boren and CPM’s Elamaram Kareem. An ambulance was on standby.
AAP’s Sanjay Singh said, “We will continue protesting against the farmer bills until the Modi government provides a rationale behind passing these bills without having the required votes”.
Opposition members accuse the Deputy Chairman of helping the government rush through the farm bills in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday without following democratic process. Mr Harivansh had rejected their calls for sending the bills to a select committee for review or even to extend the discussion till Monday. The bills were passed with a voice vote after the Chair rejected opposition calls for physical voting and a division of votes.
Furious opposition members climbed onto the Secretary General’s table at the centre of the House, flung a rulebook at Harivansh and pulled out mics. A few members also tore up copies of the bills. In the unprecedented scenes, marshals had to form a wall between the Deputy Chairman and the protesting members.
“I am pained at what happened yesterday. It defies logic. It is a bad day for Rajya Sabha,” said Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu on Monday while suspending eight members. The action provoked fresh opposition furore as the parties said the members were never given a chance to defend themselves.
Mr Naidu said the members had “physically threatened” his deputy and even abused him.
The bills, which were cleared in the Lok Sabha earlier, will now go to the President for sign-off before becoming law.
The government says the bills will make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to big buyers, will reform antiquated laws and remove middlemen from the equation, 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.