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Om Birla Re-elected Speaker, House Observes Two Minutes Silence for “Emergency Victims”

Om Birla Re-elected Speaker, House Observes Two Minutes Silence for “Emergency Victims”

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, June 26: The NDA-nominee Om Birla was on Wednesday re-elected as the speaker of the Lok Sabha by a voice vote after the opposition refrained from pressing for a contest.

At the beginning of the day’s session, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed Mr Birla’s name for the speaker’s post and the pro-tem speaker Bhartruhari Mahtab declared the election results after the opposition, which had put forward Congress MP K Suresh as its candidate, chose not to push for a vote on the motion.

Mr Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is set to be officially declared the Leader of Opposition, congratulated Mr Birla on his re-election and as per the custom escort him to the podium to occupy the chair of the presiding officer of the House. They also shook hands with each other marking a fresh chapter in the 18th Lok Sabha.

Rahul Gandhi is the third member of the Gandhi family to take the post of the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Gandhi follows in the footsteps of his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who served from 1999 to 2004, and his father, Rajiv Gandhi, who was the Leader of the Opposition from 1989 to 1990.

“It is a matter of honour that you have been elected to this chair for the second time,” PM Modi said, congratulating Mr Birla. “I congratulate you on behalf of the entire House and look forward to your guidance for the next five years. Your sweet smile keeps the entire House happy.”

“I would like to congratulate you on behalf of the entire opposition and the INDIA alliance,” said Rahul Gandhi. “You are the final arbiter of people’s voice. The government may have political power, but Opposition also represents the voice of the people. Opposition would like to assist you in your work, I am confident you will allow us to speak in House,” he added.

He also said the Opposition wanted the House to function “often and well” and added that it was very important that cooperation happens with trust. Pointing out that this time the Opposition represents significantly more voices of the Indian people than last time, Mr Gandhi stressed that it was very important that the voice of Opposition was allowed to be represented in the House. I am confident that you will allow us to represent our voice, allow us to speak, to represent voice of people of India.”

The question, he said, is not how efficiently the House is run, the question is how much of India’s voice is allowed to be heard in the House. “The idea that you can run the House efficiently by silencing the voice of Opposition is a non-democratic idea. This election has shown that the people of India expect the Opposition to defend the Constitution of this country and we are confident that by allowing Opposition to speak, you will do your duty of defending the Constitution of India,” the Congress MP said.

However, the unopposed election of Mr Birla and the passage of a resolution moved from the chair condemning imposition of emergency by the former prime minister Indira Gandhi on the 50th anniversary of the “black day,” was viewed by the BJP as personal defeat of Mr Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party.

As some opposition parties remained silent when the Congress members raised voice of protest as Mr Birla was reading out the resolution on emergency, and the Congress not pressing for the election of its nominee for the speaker’s post, the BJP questioned the unity of the opposition INDIA bloc.

Amit Malviya, BJP leader, wrote on X: “Opposition unity is a myth…Several parties in the I.N.D.I Alliance supported the resolution on Emergency, while Congress tried to hide its face. There was also no unanimity in the Opposition over seeking a voice vote or division during Speaker’s election. Third Time Fail Rahul Gandhi fails on his first day as Leader of Opposition. Losing Speaker election was the crown.”

BJP’s Shehzad Poonawala even thanked the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for their role. He posted on X, “Wow so SP, DMK, TMC MPs moved away from Congress when it opposed the Resolution to condemn Emergency! There goes INDI alliance…”

While the ruling BJP is short of a simple majority, the Congress-led opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) got the post of leader of opposition after a decade.

The first sign of lack of unity among the INDIA bloc emerged on Tuesday when the TMC — the third biggest opposition party— didn’t hide its displeasure on the Congress’s move to field a candidate for the Speaker’s election without consulting them. As news flowed in from the TMC camp, visuals of an engrossed Rahul Gandhi and TMC’s Abhishek Banerjee having an animated discussion on the floor of the house added substance to speculation.

Very soon, Banerjee cleared the air — the TMC isn’t happy about it. “We were not contacted about this; there was no discussion. Unfortunately, this is a unilateral decision,” said Banerjee to reporters outside Parliament. However, the discussion between Banerjee and Gandhi followed by a discussion among TMC Parliamentary leaders ended the deadlock, and paved the way for the TMC to send its two senior leaders — Kalyan Banerjee and Derek O’Brien — to the meeting called by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, too, there was no unanimity among most Opposition parties on whether to go by voice vote or seek a division for the Speaker’s election. There were multiple voices within the opposition which led to confusion.

It is learnt that the INDIA bloc opted for a voice vote instead of pressing for seeking a division after the TMC conveyed it wanted a voice vote. The SP and DMK representatives felt the opposition must be seen to be together and hence it is important to go by what the TMC wants. However, Congress sources suggest they were prepared to seek a division of votes in the election where it fielded eight-term Congress MP K Suresh.

The Congress confirmed that it did not seek division, but attributed the reason to be different. “I am telling you formally, we didn’t ask for division of votes…We didn’t ask for it because we found it appropriate that there be a consensus on the first day, that there be an atmosphere of consensus on the first day. This was a constructive step from our end. We could have asked for division (of votes),” said Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh.

The SP and TMC, meanwhile, supported the resolution against the Emergency — much to the dismay of the Congress and the delight of the BJP. Not only did Speaker Om Birla bring a resolution on the Emergency — a sensitive topic for the Congress at a time when its leaders are flashing copies of the Constitution of India — but the House observed a two-minute silence recalling the ‘dark days’ of the Emergency.

“June 25, 1975, will always be known as a black chapter in the history of India. On this day, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in the country and attacked the Constitution made by Babasaheb Ambedkar,” Birla said. This evoked objections from Congress MPs, but the others kept quiet. But many MPs from the Treasury Bench countered them with “Shame! Shame!” slogans.



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