Zero Hour | Six instances of Modi government’s brazen mockery of parliamentary process

From MPs being denied their right to vote to no Deputy Speaker appointed in Lok Sabha for four years — there are a number of dubious firsts in the government’s track record in Parliament

Parliament is not just a new building; it is an establishment with old traditions, values, precedents and rules — it is the foundation of Indian democracy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi doesn’t get that. If he did, why would he have brazenly mocked Parliament for the last nine years. Let me present six instances of dubious firsts that have only happened between 2014 and 2023 inside the most important, historic building of India’s parliamentary democracy.

MPs denied their right to vote by “division”: When a Bill is being passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, every member has the right to ask for a vote by “division”. Even if one MP (yes, just one) stands up in her seat and says “division”, the presiding officer is duty-bound to ask for voting on the issue. This needs to be recorded electronically or on paper slips, making it distinctly different from a voice vote in which MPs express their votes (verbally) saying either Aye or No.

During the passing of the three farm laws in 2020, a voice vote was conducted in the Rajya Sabha even though several members exercised their right and called for a “division” — this was not granted. The presiding officer (the then Vice President Venkaiah Naidu was not on the Chair) bypassed every rule and overturned every precedent. This was not an isolated incident. Members are frequently denied a vote by “division”. On July 27, 2021, CPM’s Elamaram Kareem demanded a vote by “division” on the Marine Aids to Navigation Bill. On July 28, 2021, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva asked for “division” on the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill. On August 3, 2021, many members demanded a vote by “division” on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill. The Bills got bulldozed through, the MPs were denied their right. Unprecedented.

Renomination of a Nominated MP for the same term: A gentleman was appointed as a nominated member to the Rajya Sabha in 2016 (12 members can be nominated by the President of India). Five years into his six-year term, he was declared a BJP candidate for the 2021 West Bengal elections. He resigned his nominated Rajya Sabha seat. A few weeks after losing the Assembly election, fighting on a BJP ticket, the same gentleman was re-nominated by the President back to the Rajya Sabha for the same seat that he had vacated less than three months ago. This was the first time a person had been nominated twice for the same term, while fighting an election in between. Unprecedented.

Quiz question: Can you name the gentleman?

Treasury Benches shout slogans and disrupt: After the Budget Session reconvenes for its second leg, the Lok Sabha discusses the Demand For Grants for five ministries. The budgets for these are discussed in detail, while the remaining ministries are clubbed (guillotined) and voted on together. This year, this was passed for all ministries with no discussion. This also happened in 2004-05 and 2013-14, but there was a huge difference. A no-confidence motion was passed against the government in 2004-05. In 2013-14, the decision to guillotine the whole budget was taken by the Business Advisory Committee of the Lok Sabha, in view of impending state elections.

However, the reason for the guillotine this year is inexplicable. It was not the Opposition benches, but the Treasury benches who were shouting slogans in the Rajya Sabha, leading to the Budget session being a washout. Unprecedented.

No Deputy Speaker in Lok Sabha: B R Ambedkar, while opposing a proposal to have the Speaker’s resignation submitted to the President, stressed the importance of the Deputy Speaker’s role in maintaining the Speaker’s independence from the executive branch. Article 93 of the Constitution states that the Lok Sabha must select a Speaker and Deputy Speaker promptly after a government takes charge. Four years and still no Deputy Speaker. Unprecedented.

Passing non-money matters in Finance Bills: Each year during the Budget Session, the Finance Bill is presented and passed. It is categorised as a Money Bill and is only voted on by the Lok Sabha and is not sent to any committee for scrutiny. The Rajya Sabha does not vote on the Bill and cannot move any amendments to it.

This Union government has started the unholy practice of sneaking non-money related matters into the Finance Bill. This devious tactic allows such legislation to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. For instance, the Finance Bill of 2016 included provisions for amending the Reserve Bank of India Act of 1934. The 2017 Finance Bill included provisions related to structural changes to existing tribunals and amendments to various acts to pave the way for the Electoral Bond Scheme. And around half of the provisions in the 2018 Finance Bill were unrelated to taxation. Unprecedented.

No Railway Budget: In 2017, another precedent was set aside by the BJP. For the first time, the Railway Budget was subsumed into the Union Budget. This had never happened before. The (separate) Railway Budget on the floor of Parliament has now been consigned to the dustbin. But then, are we surprised? With the inauguration of the new Parliament building, Team Modi is even converting Central Hall, the tabernacle of Parliament, into a museum.

[This article appeared in The Indian Express | Friday, May 26, 2023]