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22 Dec, 2023 13:07

Indian opposition takes ‘democracy’ to the streets 

An alliance of 28 parties launched a nationwide protest after 146 MPs were suspended 
Indian opposition takes ‘democracy’ to the streets 

The Indian opposition staged mass protests in New Delhi and other cities on Friday, questioning the suspension of 146 MPs for unruly behavior just as parliament considers a host of crucial bills.  

The suspended lawmakers are all part of the Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc. The alliance was formed earlier this year by 28 opposition parties to challenge the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the 2024 general election.  

The MPs’ suspension followed demands from the opposition to debate last week’s parliamentary security breach, in which two intruders entered the house and sprayed gas.

Opposition lawmakers have insisted that the country’s home minister address parliament over the security lapse. The BJP had asked opposition members to wait for the findings of an inquiry set up to investigate the attack. At the same time, Modi accused the opposition, which recently lost to the BJP in crucial assembly polls, of putting “political spin” on the December 13 incident.  

On Friday morning, INDIA bloc leaders – including Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and party leader Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Sharad Pawar, and the head of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), Sitaram Yechury – were seen in downtown New Delhi holding placards and banners reading “Save Democracy” and “Democracy is in danger.”  

“In the history of democracy in the world, 146 MPs have never been suspended. People should know that democracy is in danger. The protest is to tell the people that whatever is happening is wrong for the future of the country,” Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said. 

On the eve of the nationwide action, Tharoor told an RT correspondent in New Delhi that even as the opposition “loses out in protest,” there was no other way to bring the issues to light. “[The suspensions are] a severe indictment of the manner in which this government regards parliamentary democracy rather than the opposition,” he claimed.  

Another prominent face of the Congress party, lawyer-turned-politician Vivek Tankha, told RT that democracy was in danger. “You cannot have a democracy without an opposition,” he said.  

Opposition leaders argued that by suspending MPs from the house, the ruling party has avoided a debate on several important bills introduced for the winter session of parliament. The bills were eventually passed this week while opposition MPs remained suspended. Parliament was adjourned indefinitely on Thursday, bringing an end to the rocky winter session. 

Among the key legislation passed, the opposition raised concerns over three new criminal bills that repeal colonial-era laws. The measures were passed by the 543-strong lower house (Lok Sabha) on Wednesday, in the absence of 97 suspended opposition members. The bills then cleared the 245-member upper house (Rajya Sabha) on Thursday. They were initially introduced in parliament in August, and drew criticism from across the political spectrum. Concerns were raised over the sections on sedition, antiterrorism, and others, arguing that the new laws are more “draconian” than those adopted under British rule.   

Speaking at the Rajya Sabha, Union home minister Amit Shah insisted that the new laws are not intended at “punishing, but giving justice.” For the first time, the Indian justice system will be governed by laws made in India, for India, and by the Indian Parliament, he declared.

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