Monday’s session of the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, was marred by protesting lawmakers.
MPs of opposition parties led by the Congress Party were protesting against the Narendra Modi government after Rahul Gandhi – the Gandhi family scion whose family members have served as the country’s freedom fighters and prime ministers – was controversially disqualified from parliament.
Videos showed opposition members carrying placards, storming the well of the house, and tossing shreds of paper at Om Birla, the Lok Sabha speaker, as he attempted to get the lower house in order.
Congress lawmakers TN Prathapan Hibi Eden, Jothi Mani S, and Ramya Haridas rushed to the well of the house, tore papers and tossed them at the speaker, reported The Indian Express. Some lawmakers were seen waving black cloths at Mr Birla.
The house was adjourned within seconds of the ruckus, but opposition lawmakers continued to protest after the speaker had left.
The action comes days after Gandhi, a former MP from Kerala state’s Wayanad district, was disqualified from parliament after being convicted of defamation for insulting Mr Modi.
Gandhi, 52, was sentenced in Gujarat – Mr Modi’s home state – to two years in prison on 23 March over a speech in 2019 in which he referred to “thieves” as having the surname Modi.
A day later, a parliament notice said Gandhi stood disqualified as a member of the lower house from the date of his conviction in compliance with constitutional requirements.
Congress lawmakers dressed in black also gathered at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi – whom Rahul Gandhi is not related to – outside the parliament on Monday in protest.
The lawmaker’s disqualification has seemingly caused India’s splintered opposition to unite against the Modi government.
Lawmakers led by Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge and former party president and Gandhi’s mother Sonia Gandhi staged a sit-in demonstration at Kartavya Path, a landmark near the parliament, holding a huge banner that read “Satyamev Jayate” (“Truth alone triumphs”) and waving placards with “Save Democracy” written on them.
The leaders of at least 16 other parties joined them.
“You want to defame Rahul Gandhi, that is why you transferred the case to Gujarat, even as the comments were made in Kolar in Karnataka. Today is a black day for democracy,” Mr Kharge said about Gandhi’s disqualification.
Joint protest by 17 Opposition parties (INC,DMK,SP,JDU,BRS,CPM,RJD,NCP,CPI,IUML,MDMK,KC,TMC,RSP,AAP,J&K NC & SS) over disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from Lok Sabha pic.twitter.com/3n33gIzYpt
— Arvind Gunasekar (@arvindgunasekar) March 27, 2023
Congress also accused Mr Modi’s federal government of failing to constitute a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to look into the allegations of corporate fraud and stock manipulation by the Adani Group.
Gautam Adani is the founder and chair of the multinational conglomerate and is often accused of benefiting from his proximity to Mr Modi.
“How has Adani’s wealth multiplied so much in the last few years. When you are going to foreign countries, how many times have you taken the industrialist with you. The PM has not been able to give answers to questions raised against Adani,” Mr Kharge told reporters.
“We want a JPC on the Adani issue. Why is the government not agreeing to this? Why are you scared of a JPC probe... it means dal mein kuchh kala hai (something is wrong),” he was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
Earlier, lawmakers from different opposition parties, including the Trinamool Congress, Bharat Rashtra Samithi, and Samajwadi Party, met at the parliament complex to strategise on the Adani issue as well as Gandhi’s disqualification.
Meanwhile, youth Congress workers who were staging a protest at Jantar Mantar, an area near parliament that is often used for protests, were detained by Delhi Police, a police force that is administered by the federal government.
— The Times Of India (@timesofindia) March 26, 2023
Addressing a press conference over the weekend, Gandhi remained unfazed and did not apologise for his earlier comments.
“I have been disqualified because the prime minister is scared of my next speech, he is scared of the next speech that is going to come on Adani,” he said.
India’s parliament has continued to see disruption during the ongoing Budget session, as the opposition has demanded a discussion on government action on the Adani Group.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party also recently stalled parliamentary discussions by demanding an apology from Gandhi for a recent speech during a visit to London, in which he said Indian democracy was under attack.