More than 140 Indian MPs suspended from parliament in stand-off with BJP

Majority of opposition MPs have been barred for allegedly disrupting proceedings and accuse PM Narendra Modi's government of a 'mockery of democracy'

Prominent Congress party members join other opposition politicians in protest over the suspension of MPs from parliament. AP
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More than half of the opposition MPs in India's lower house of parliament have now been suspended in an unprecedented stand-off with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government ahead of general elections in four months.

Two more members of the Lok Sabha were suspended on Wednesday for disrupting proceedings, following the suspension of 49 MPs the previous day and 78 on Monday, the most in one day.

The opposition politicians were suspended after waving placards and shouting to demand a response from the government and a discussion of a security breach in parliament last week. MPs say they are concerned about the safety of the building after two men were able to set off smoke canisters in the gallery.

The total number of opposition MPs suspended is now 143, which is more than half of the opposition politicians of both houses. In the 543-member lower house, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a clear majority.

The opposition has called the government's move a "mockery of democracy" but the BJP has justified their suspension by saying they "embarrassed" the country with their conduct.

"Democracy has been strangulated by this government," said Sonia Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party.

"Never before have so many opposition members of parliament been suspended from the house and that, too, simply for raising a perfectly reasonable and legitimate demand."

The showdown between the opposition and ruling party is expected to intensify ahead of the general election, which will take place in the summer. The opposition coalition – an alliance of two dozen parties – is trying to prevent Mr Modi from returning to power for a third consecutive term. They received a setback when the Congress party suffered a defeat this month by losing three of four key states in assembly elections. They will hold nationwide protests over the suspension of MPs on Friday.

As the Lok Sabha proceedings continued on Wednesday with almost no opposition members present, the chamber approved the crucial bills including overhauling colonial-era criminal laws and amending the telecoms bill seeking expansion and operations of the sector.

"This is an unprecedented development," said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst who wrote a biography on Mr Modi.

"It appears they don’t want any dissent in the country," he told The National.

"Unfortunately, key bills will be passed without opposition and without debate.

"The showdown between the opposition and the government will be worse in the next few months before elections."

The opposition has lost more than two thirds of its strength in the 543-member Lok Sabha. Similarly, in Rajya Sabha or upper house, close to half of opposition lawmakers have been suspended. "Unfortunately, we have to start writing obituaries for parliamentary democracy in India," Shashi Tharoor of the Congress party told reports on Tuesday in New Delhi after being suspended.

There was a security breach in India's parliament building last week, on the anniversary of a deadly terrorist attack on the legislative complex in New Delhi 22 years ago.

Two men jumped from the visitors’ gallery into the well of the lower house and set off smoke canisters that released thick yellow fumes, triggering nationwide alarm and raising questions over the security of one of India’s most protected sites.

Six people have been arrested in connection with the incident.

Updated: December 20, 2023, 1:49 PM