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After Speaker, President Refers Back to Emergency, Opposition Protest

After Speaker, President Refers Back to Emergency, Opposition Protest

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, June 27: Even as the Congress and the leaders of several other opposition parties on Thursday raised strong objections against the newly-elected Speaker Om Birla moving a resolution condemning the imposition of emergency in 1975, the issue returned in the Presidential Address to the joint session of Parliament underlining the event as the “biggest and darkest chapter” in Indian history.

Within hours of an opposition delegation led by the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and leader Rahul Gandhi called on the speaker to register their protest against emergency resolution being moved by the chair, President delivered her inaugural address sharply criticising emergency and said the move was a direct attack on the constitution. Her mention of the Emergency drew a sharp reaction from the Opposition which shouted slogans in protest.

Murmu’s address came two days after India marked the 49th anniversary of the Emergency — and it added a new chapter in a raging debate over the 21-month period when several political opponents of the then government were jailed and basic freedoms curbed citing internal and external threats to the country.

On Wednesday, newly elected Speaker Om Birla, too, condemned what he called a “black chapter” in India’s history, in his first speech in the 18th Lok Sabha. “On June 25, 1975,” Birla said, “Then prime minister Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency and attacked the Constitution made by Babasaheb Ambedkar.” His speech, too, triggered protests by the Congress, whose members shouted slogans in the House.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded Birla’s speech and said events during the Emergency were an example of what dictatorship looked like. And on Tuesday, when India marked the anniversary of the Emergency, Modi launched a scathing attack on the Congress, which accuses his government of “tanasahi” (dictatorship) and says it was up to the Opposition to save the Constitution. The PM, in his Tuesday post, said the Congress party had “subverted basic freedoms and trampled over the Constitution” just “to cling on to power”, and that those “who imposed the Emergency have no right to profess their love for our Constitution” now.

Mr Gandhi and some other senior members of the INDIA bloc met Mr Birla on Thursday to formally protest his reference, in Parliament on Wednesday to the “dark days of the Emergency.” The opposition leaders accompanying Mr Gandhi included Supriya Sule of the NCP, Misa Bharati from the RJD, Kanimozhi of Tamil Nadu’s ruling DMK, Dharmendra Yadav of Samajwadi Party and Kalyan Banerjee of the TMC besides others

They said Mr Birla’s actions were “a very grave matter impacting Parliament’s credibility” and expressed “profound concern and anguish over this travesty of parliamentary traditions.”

In the meeting Mr Gandhi is believed to have told Mr Birla – who read out the resolution flaying the government at the time (led by the party’s Indira Gandhi) – that the reference, and the call for two minutes’ silence, which triggered howls of protest from the opposition benches, was unnecessary.

“Yesterday, that is June 26, 2024, at the time of offering felicitations on your election as Lok Sabha Speaker, there was general camaraderie in the House… as such occasions generate. However, what followed… reference from the Chair in regard to declaration of emergency is deeply shocking.”

Expressing its displeasure on the Speaker bringing in a resolution against imposition of Emergency, Congress has said making political reference, that too on the day of assuming office, was “deeply shocking“ and “unprecedented in the annals of history of Parliament.”

“Making of such a political reference from the Chair is unprecedented in the annals of history of Parliament. This coming from the Chair as one of the ‘first duties’ from a newly elected Speaker assumes even graver proportions,” the party’s general secretary K.C. Venugopal has written in a letter to Mr Birla.

“So many things were discussed… about functioning of Parliament. Of course this issue also came up and Rahulji, as Leader of the Opposition, told the Speaker the reference could have been avoided. It was clearly a political reference… it could have been avoided,” Mr Venugopal told press this evening.

Days earlier the Prime Minister launched a broadside of his own. He began the first Parliament session of his third term – after earlier emphasising the importance of consensus – by attacking the Congress and the “black spot” on the country’s democratic record. “… 50 years of the black spot on Indian democracy. New generation will not forget how the Constitution was scrapped, how the country was turned into a jail and democracy was captured.”

The ruling party and the opposition have gone head-to-head over the Emergency. The opposition, particularly the Congress, has counterattacked by calling the past decade – the two terms of the Modi government – as an “undeclared Emergency,” referring to claims its lawmakers have been harassed, and slapped with corruption cases and critics of the administration silenced.

Opposition MPs underlined that point this week by holding up copies of the Constitution while taking oath. And, in congratulatory messages to Mr Birla after his election, several reminded him about the mass suspension of opposition MPs – over 160 were ejected – in December last year.



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