PARLIAMENT SUSPENSIONS: When posturing becomes all-pervasive

If the din in either House of Parliament is part of political messaging, the subsequent disruption of business is a disservice to the people.

ByV V P Sharma

Published Dec 19, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedDec 19, 2023 | 9:00 AM

Winter session: Lok Sabha chamber of the new Parliament building. (Creative Commons)

Mass suspensions of members of Parliament as happened on Monday, 18 December —  a dubious record of 92 suspensions in both Houses — are rare, but when they do occur, they reflect either the ruling party’s intransigence in listening to the Opposition or the latter’s insistence on using commotion and disruption of House business to find the government’s ear.

It is unclear when and at what point the objective of the treasury or Opposition benches becomes less about collective responsibility and more about political expediency. That is also when the patience, impartiality and strength of character of the Chair are tested to the maximum.

What happened on Monday can have more than one reason: The current surcharged political atmosphere in the country, the 2024 general elections being around the corner, parties making their political postures clearer, and a sense of ideological bitterness and impatience in present-day politics.

Parliament security breach: LS and RS suspend Opposition members

‘Unruly behaviour’ in Parliament

Parliament has provisions for handling unruly behaviour by members of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

For instance, according to the Rules of Conduct and Parliamentary Etiquette of the Rajya Sabha, “The House has the right to punish its members for their misconduct whether in the House or outside it. In cases of misconduct or contempt committed by its members, the House can impose a punishment in the form of admonition, reprimand, withdrawal from the House, suspension from the service of the House, imprisonment and expulsion from the House.”

A book on Parliamentary Procedure by former Lok Sabha Secretary-General Subhash Kashyap says that mild offences are punished by admonition or reprimand (reprimand being the more serious of the two), while withdrawal from the House is demanded in the case of gross misconduct.

If “persistent and wilful obstructions” of the members continue, the chairman may name and subsequently move a motion to suspend the member. A member can be suspended, at the maximum, for the remainder of the session only, the book says.

In a case of extreme misconduct, the House may expel a member. According to a comment in the above rule book, “The purpose of expulsion is not so much disciplinary as remedial, not so much to punish members as to rid the House of persons who are unfit for membership.”

Parliament security breach: Delhi police oppose accused’s plea for copy of FIR

From rare and rarer to often and routine

There have been several instances in the past when Parliament exercised its right to punish members. In the early decades after Independence, disruptions were rare, and removals of members were rarer.

Among the early recorded instances, Rajya Sabha member Godey Murahari was suspended for the remainder of the session on 3 September, 1962. He had to be removed by the marshal of the House.

Ironically, he has a distinction in Indian parliamentary history: He is the only member to have been deputy chair of the Rajya Sabha and deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Murahari was also involved in the second instance of suspension of a member. He and Raj Narain were suspended for one week by two separate motions moved on 25 July, 1966, by the leader of the Rajya Sabha, MC Chagla and adopted by the House.

The members refused to withdraw, and the House marshal was called to remove him physically. It is said the House was aghast at this. The next day the chairman expressed his distress and leaders of different parties expressed their regret at the incident.

On 12 August, 1971, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Om Mehta moved a motion to suspend Raj Narain for the remainder of the Rajya Sabha session. On refusing to withdraw, he was physically removed.

Related: Parliament security breach serious issue, says PM Modi

Expulsions from the Upper House

The Upper House also witnessed the expulsion of a member thrice. In the first instance, Subramanian Swamy was expelled on 15 November, 1976.

The expulsion was based on the report of the committee appointed to investigate his conduct and activities.

The committee found his conduct derogatory to the dignity of the House and its members and inconsistent with the standards which the House expects from its members.

Dr Chhattrapal Singh Lodha on 23 December, 2005, and Dr Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj on 21 March, 2006, were expelled for gross misconduct that was deemed to have brought down the dignity of the House and the Code of Conduct.

Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha began witnessing extremely unruly behaviour, and that too by groups of members in the late 1980s.

Related: Congress says unemployment the reason for breach in Parliament

Rajiv Gandhi govt suspended 63 MPs

A much-talked-about incident happened in 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister.

On 15 March, there was commotion in the House over the Thakkar Commission report on the Assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984.

The details had been published in an English daily before the report was tabled in Parliament. The furore led to a whopping 63 MPs — unheard of at that time — being suspended for a week.

In total contrast, there was an incident in the Lok Sabha on 20 July, 1989. There was commotion in the House over a CAG report remarks on defence services.

Satyagopal Misra, a Communist party MP from West Bengal, dislodged the microphone placed before the Chair and threw it in the pit of the House. Strangely, no action was taken even though it was gross misconduct.

In February 2014, during the rule of UPA-II, 18 Lok Sabha members were suspended from the House. In January 2019, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 45 Lok Sabha members for unruly behaviour.

In most cases in the past, disruptions occurred and punishments were meted out because members violated the code of conduct.

Currently, suspensions and expulsions for entire sessions have become more common because of the Opposition members insisting on hearing the official version, or explanation, from the Union government and the latter refusing to do so.

Most of the time, the Opposition’s furore is over the government not conceding the demand for a statement from the prime minister.

The question is, in the face of unruly behaviour by members, whether the Chairs in both Houses use punishments as a last resort, but even then only after exhausting all other remedial measures.

Such instances can only be seen as the breaking down of communication between parties and shrinking avenues for personal communication and respect for one another’s opinions and, of course, the right amount of extra patience required to manage situations.