Indian government accused of attack on democracy as 141 MPs suspended

Hannah Ellis-Petersen (The Guardian) 19 December 2023

More than 140 Indian opposition politicians have been suspended from parliament, the largest number in history, after protesting against a recent security breach at the parliamentary premises.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government was accused of a direct attack on democracy and creating “anarchy” after 141 MPs from 11 different opposition parties, who sit in the lower and upper houses of parliament, were suspended for the rest of the winter session.

While opposition MPs have been suspended by the BJP government in the past, this was the most bulk suspensions of MPs on record in Indian parliamentary history. On Monday alone 78 MPs were suspended, the highest in a single day.

Most will just be suspended until the winter session ends on Friday, but some cases will be decided by the parliamentary privileges committee.

Karti Chidambaram, of the opposition National Congress party, said parliament “is going to resemble the North Korean assembly”, and the party’s president, Mallikarjun Kharge, said the intention by the government was to “scare” the opposition parties.

Members of parliament were accused of disrupting proceedings after they protested over a recent incident in which six intruders broke into parliament’s lower house when MPs were present and let off canisters of coloured, non-toxic gas. The intruders, who were all arrested, were reportedly angry at the government over its economic policies and lack of job opportunities.

Opposition MPs have been calling for the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and the home minister, Amit Shah, to address parliament about the incident and debate the matter in the house. However, the BJP speaker has refused to let the debate go ahead, saying the security breach is not within the purview of the government.

Many of the opposition politicians were suspended on Monday and Tuesday for “serious misconduct” after taking part in protests that included chanting and brandishing placards in parliament, some bearing the face of Modi. The house speaker said such placards were not allowed on parliament premises.

Modi hit back at the opposition politicians, accusing them of “antics” and said they were “not destined to do constructive work”.

Almost two-thirds of those suspended are part of the new opposition coalition, known as INDIA – an acronym for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance – who have united to collectively fight the BJP in the upcoming election, due around May. The coalition met in Delhi on Tuesday to discuss their election strategy.

“Unfortunately, we have to start writing obituaries for parliamentary democracy in India,” said Shashi Tharoor, a Congress party leader who was among those suspended.

The Modi government has been accused of undermining parliamentary democracy in India since it first came to power in 2014 and using its strong parliamentary majority to go after opposition parties and critical MPs, with many facing harassment and criminal investigations by central government agencies.

Manish Tewari, another suspended Congress MP, accused the government of suspending the MPs in order to push through various “draconian” criminal laws during the winter session, without the opportunity for dissent.

The BJP already has an overwhelming parliamentary majority to pass bills without opposition support. “Parliament has been totally delegitimised,” said Tewari, while Sushil Kumar Rinku, an MP from the Aam Admi party, said that “those speaking the truth and asking questions have been suspended from the house today”.

Last month, Mahua Moitra, an opposition MP who was one of the most vocal critics of Modi and the BJP government, was expelled from parliament. She described the parliamentary ethics committee that recommended her expulsion as a “kangaroo court”.


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