Om Birla's Resolution to Condemn Emergency is a Shocking Display of Partisanship

As pointed out by the Congress, there would be no objection if the resolution had been introduced by the BJP.

4 min read

Barely a few hours after being elected as the Speaker of the 18th Lok Sabha on 26 June, and congratulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the new Leader of the Opposition Rahul Gandhi, Om Birla made it amply clear what he thought of the Opposition’s demand of him to be strictly impartial.

After he had absorbed all the adulation, he pulled out a paper and read out a resolution against the Emergency that was imposed on the country some 50 years ago by the Congress government led by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Congress party and other Opposition parties were dumbstruck by the brazenness of the Speaker, who had violated every precedent of Parliament.

As pointed out by the Congress party, there would be no objection if the resolution had been introduced in Parliament by the ruling party, but Birla chose to cross the line and introduce it himself, only to be followed by two minutes of silence in the memory of those who suffered in the Emergency. The Speaker, by this action, appears to have no desire to be fair and non-partisan.

Quite visibly, Om Birla wanted to make it clear to Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition MPs that they should nurse no illusion of how the Lok Sabha would be run even when the BJP did not have a majority and that it would be run in the same partisan manner as the 17th Lok Sabha.

All his decisions were taken at the behest of his BJP bosses. In the earlier term, not many in the media and the Opposition parties found Birla’s actions bizarre as they never expected anything better from a muscular government. However, it is a different Parliament this time around. The Opposition, this time, has the numbers to put up a formidable challenge.

However, President Droupadi Murmu claimed in her address that this is a majority government, unmindful of the precipitous decline of 63 seats from the 17th Lok Sabha in the recent parliamentary elections. Mahua Moitra of the Trinamool Congress pointed out President Murmu's insistence on calling it a majority government even when it needed crutches to remain in power.

Why is the government adamant that the Speaker shed his role as an unbiased referee?

Firstly, the Modi government is keen to show that it is business as usual even after losing a large number of seats in Parliament. Modi has not only appointed the same individuals as ministers but also given them the same portfolios. Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, S Jaishankar, and Nirmala Sitharaman get the same ministries as last time. The same principle applies in the case of appointing Om Birla as the Speaker.

After all, in the last Lok Sabha, he proved to be a faithful presiding officer of the BJP who was quick to expel 140 odd MPs from the house. He also quickly removed Mahua Moitra from the Lok Sabha. It’s a different matter that he did not give enough chances to Moitra to defend herself.

PM Modi has publicly appreciated Birla’s efficiency in running the House, even if it meant smothering voices contrary to the government's stance. Congress MPs always claimed that the Speaker was quick to shut mikes or TV cameras if someone seemed to be hostile towards the PM or the government. Rahul Gandhi was a major sufferer.

Once, out of the 18 minutes of his speech, the camera showed the Speaker for 11 minutes. Such preposterous happenings were applauded in the name of running the House "efficiently". His pliability was visible in his inability to restore the many rights that the media enjoy in the parliament.

Journalists suffered a raw deal during and after the pandemic as they were not allowed in the House for a long time. Similar high-handedness was visible in many other cases.

Why did the Speaker raise the issue of emergency on 26 June when his endeavour should have been to rise above the divisions and run the House above factionalism and the growing rancour? In doing the same, he became a party to the attempt of the BJP to spin its tarred image during the recent election when it had been caught on the wrong foot and seen to be opposing the Indian Constitution.

Its pompous announcement that it would try to win 400 plus seats was perceived by Scheduled Castes as an attempt to change the constitution and take away their rights. Dalits all over the country hold the Constitution dear as it gives them job reservations. They voted against the BJP in large parts of the country, preventing it from winning a majority. The Congress-led Opposition parties then embraced the constitution in a manner that now riles up the ruling party.

It is due to this reason that they chose to weave the events around the new Parliament to commemorate 50 years of the Emergency and remind the nation of how the Congress party cannot be trusted with the ideals of democracy. The government of the late Indira Gandhi may have imposed the Emergency, but it also chose to withdraw it after 18 months unlike the Modi government, which has had an undeclared Emergency for the last many years in which voices of dissent, in media and elsewhere, have been muzzled. Leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad, the new MP from Nagina, UP, have criticised the undeclared Emergency and how that has not been withdrawn yet.

The Opposition parties hope to use their greater numerical strength in Parliament to put the government on the mat on issues like unemployment, communal violence, and inflation. If the Speaker’s partisan conduct and the ensuing face-off between the government and the Opposition parties is anything to go by, then a confrontation in Parliament would be orchestrated to ensure that the House just does not function at all, and the BJP’s formidable propaganda machinery could be used to blame the Opposition for it.

Expect noise, walkouts, and more.

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