Is Modi threatening India’s democracy?

2023 12 18T140410Z 1 LYNXMPEJBH0H3 RTROPTP 4 INDIA PARLIAMENT MODI
FILE PHOTO: A man jumps into the lawmakers' area in the lower house of the Indian Parliament, in New Delhi, India, December 13, 2023, in this screengrab obtained from a handout video. Sansad TV/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

This week, 49 opposition lawmakers in India, who had been insisting on a discussion about the parliament security breach on December 13, were suspended from the legislative session. This government action followed the suspension of 78 opposition members the day before, totalling 141 lawmakers (95 from the lower house and 46 from the upper chamber) suspended since December 14 in the crucial Winter Session.

The opposition criticized the government’s move as a “mockery of democracy,” expressing concern that important legislation would be passed without proper debate, undermining the principles of parliamentary democracy.

The opposition had been pushing for a debate on the security breach on December 13, when two individuals entered the lower house chamber from the visitors’ gallery, releasing gas canisters. Their access was facilitated by a legislator from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Critics argue that the government is executing a “complete purge” to expedite the passage of contentious bills without substantial debate. They also highlight the perceived leniency toward the BJP MP who facilitated the entry of the intruders on December 13.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to investigate the incident but criticized the opposition for demanding a debate. The opposition lawmakers were suspended for disrupting proceedings after demanding a discussion and a statement regarding the recent security breach.

Police have filed charges against five individuals in connection with the breach, sparking a political dispute. The opposition accuses the government of failing to provide adequate security on the 22nd anniversary of a deadly attack on the parliament.

The speaker of the lower house, Om Birla, asserted that security is his responsibility and is conducting a review. He attributed the lawmakers’ suspension to their violation of the House rules. The federal home ministry is also conducting its own investigation into the breach.

Political analysts have raised concerns about the suspensions, asserting that members of Parliament have the right to seek answers and hold the government accountable. They argued that the government’s justification for the suspension, citing disruption and unruly behaviour, is an attempt to hinder parliamentary functioning.

The government’s intention to introduce controversial bills in the absence of two-thirds of the opposition members has sparked further criticism. Analysts highlighted the Prime Minister’s reluctance to engage with the opposition as undermining democratic principles, underlining the importance of dialogue between the majority and minority.

Many analysts view the mass suspensions as unprecedented, aligned with Prime Minister Modi’s authoritarian style. Critics allege that the government has exploited investigative agencies and institutions to target opposition leaders, raising questions about selective investigations and political motivations.

The expulsion of opposition legislator Mahua Moitra, known for her pointed questions, and the cancellation of Rahul Gandhi’s parliamentary membership on defamation charges were cited as examples of politically motivated actions. Moitra has approached the country’s top court against her removal.

The governing party has defended its actions, accusing the opposition of corruption and power hunger. The parliamentary processes can proceed with the governing party and its allies meeting the quorum requirement, but critics argue that leveraging numerical superiority to stifle opposing voices contradicts democratic principles.

In response to the government’s actions, the opposition labelled it as dictatorial and accused it of assaulting democracy. Silent demonstrations have been staged to protest what they perceive as the “murder of democracy” and a violation of Parliament’s dignity.

 

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