A record 19 MPs from opposition parties were suspended from Rajya Sabha on Tuesday for the rest of the week after they continued to disrupt proceedings to press for an immediate discussion on price rise and levy of Goods and Services Tax on essential items.
An unrelenting Opposition created a ruckus in Rajya Sabha, with the penalised MPs refusing to leave the House, and alleged that "democracy has been suspended" in the country.
The development, which came a day after Lok Sabha Speaker Om Prakash Birla suspended four Congress MPs for the rest of the current Monsoon session, is likely to further intensify the standoff between the Opposition and the government, which insisted that the discussion will be held once Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recovers from COVID-19.
Of the 19 MPs suspended from Rajya Sabha, seven belong to the Trinamool Congress, six are from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, three from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, two from the Communist Party of India-Marxist, and one from the Communist Party of India.
The first seven days of the Monsoon session were virtually washed out as the two Houses were rocked by Opposition protests to press for an immediate discussion on rising prices of fuel and essential commodities as well as levy of GST on wheat, rice, flour, curd and other daily use items.
On Tuesday too, Rajya Sabha proceedings were adjourned for an hour after it assembled but Deputy Chairman Harivansh managed to conduct Question Hour despite opposition MPs trooping into the well and shouting slogans.
But in the post-lunch session, when the government legislative business was to be taken up, Harivansh repeatedly asked the protesting members to return to their seats and warned them of action.
Senior opposition leaders like Ramgopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, TMC's Derek O'Brien and others demanded the suspension of business to discuss price rise but the chair wanted The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022 to be discussed.
When his pleas went unheeded, Harivansh asked the treasury benches to move a resolution for suspension.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan moved a motion to suspend 10 MPs - seven from the TMC, Mohamed Abdulla and Kanimozhi NVN Somu of the DMK and AA Rahim of the CPM - from the sitting of the House for the remainder of the week for their "misconduct" by showing "utter disregard to the House and authority of the chair".
The TMC MPs were Sushmita Dev, Mausam Noor, Shanta Chhetri, Dola Sen, Santanu Sen, Abir Ranjan Biswas and Md. Nadimul Haque.
Nine more names - B Lingaiah Yadav, Ravichandra Vaddiraju and Damodar Rao Divakonda of the TRS; S Kalyanasundaram, R Girirajan, NR Elango and M Shanmugam of the DMK, CPM's V Sivadasan and Santhosh Kumar P of CPI were added -- when Harivansh put the motion to vote.
MPs from Congress, which has been part of the protests over the price rise issue, were agitating outside the House over ED action against party president Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald case.
The motion to suspend was passed by a voice vote. When some opposition MPs demanded a division of votes, the chair said he would do so if the members returned to their seats and the House was brought to order.
With the MPs refusing to budge, he said it seems they are not interested in the division and declared that the motion has been adopted.
This is the highest number of suspensions at a go in Rajya Sabha as the previous record was on the first day of the Winter session in November last year when 12 MPs were suspended for the ruckus they had created in the previous Monsoon session in August.
A 13th MP, Derek O'Brien, was suspended on the last day of that session, while seven MPs were suspended for "unruly" behaviour during the passage of farm laws in the Monsoon session of 2020.
In January 2019, the then Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 45 members of the TDP and AIADMK for disrupting proceedings for days.
The action against the 19 Rajya Sabha MPs escalated the opposition's fury against the government over what they claim was an attempt to shut voices that question the ruling alliance's economic and social policies.
"The decision to suspend opposition MPs from Rajya Sabha was taken with a heavy heart. They kept on ignoring the Chairman's appeals," Union Minister and senior BJP leader Piyush Goyal said.
"The government is ready for a debate on price rise once Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recovers (from Covid-19 infection) and returns to parliament."
The Opposition is demanding that the discussions be held under Rule 267 which requires suspending the listed business of the day to take up the issue being raised.
The TMC lashed out at the government alleging Parliament has been turned into a "deep, dark chamber".
"Democracy has been suspended in India. Parliament has been turned into a deep, dark chamber," TMC leader Derek O'Brien told reporters here. "Prime Minister Narendra Modi is afraid of Parliament. I ask him to come and answer one question in Parliament.
He said when Manmohan Singh was prime minister, he answered around 22 questions in Parliament, while "Mr Modi has answered none."
The CPI alleged that the BJP-led dispensation was trying to "evade" critical issues.
"Suspension of RS MPs, including CPI MP P Santhosh Kumar, for demanding a discussion on inflation & imposition of GST on essential goods is unfortunate. Critical issues are being evaded. The government wants to run the Parliament without any accountability to the people & opposition," tweeted CPI general secretary D Raja.
"You can suspend us but you cannot silence us. Deplorable situation - our hon'ble MPs are trying to flag people's issues but they are being suspended. For how long will this go on? The sanctity of the parliament stands heavily compromised," the TMC tweeted.
After the suspension, Harivansh asked the 19 MPs to leave the House.
But the suspended MPs refused to leave, squatting on the floor of the House, leading to three adjournments -- first for 15 minutes by Harivansh, then for an hour and finally, for the day by Bhubaneswar Kalita, who was in the chair.
Before the final adjournment, AAP's Sanjay Singh tore a paper into pieces and flung them into the air, some landing towards the chair.
Reacting to this, Kalita, who was in the chair, said, "This is too much".