All hell breaks loose in the Rajya Sabha as Chairman Dhankar rejects the opposition’s demand for ‘Rule 267’ for the Third-time

According to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Rajya Sabha, Rule 267 invokes absolute attention on matters of urgent national interest. Once invoked, the Government is bound to respond and discuss it.

Since the first day of the Parliament’s monsoon session, July 20th, the floor of the Rajya Sabha witnessed a chain of animated events. Affectionately referred to as the House of the Elderlies (revered for its cordial means of dialogue), it broke its character owing to intense sloganeering and a fiery war of words. This “monsoon session” is anything but serene for the upper house of the Indian Parliament.

Each day, the chairman of Rajya Sabha and Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankar fixes an agenda for discussion contrary to the demands made by the opposition. In an agitated attempt to invoke PM Modi’s clarification, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien shouted, “Manipur! Manipur!” but Chairman Dhankar steered clear of the matter by telling him he was “challenging the (his) chair.”

Even the Veteran Leader of the Opposition, Mallikarjunan Kharge, broke his composure to invoke the chairman’s involvement in imposing Rule 267, a motion by which an extremely urgent matter gets discussed in the house by suspending all other business of the day. Chairman Dhankar discredited this demand by maintaining that he did not find it fit “on merit” to scrap all agenda to only discuss on Manipur. 

During these frantic times when Manipur continues to wither under the extremities of human rights violation and the proven incapacity of the state’s “double engine sarkar,” neither the master nor his minions yield the convenience of addressing the Parliament and ameliorating the predicament. 

The Modi Government has maintained that it was willing to address the issue under Rule 176, whereby it can grace the opposition through a short discussion on Manipur without guaranteeing the Prime Minister’s involvement. 

What is Rule 267?

According to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Rajya Sabha, Rule 267 invokes absolute attention on matters of urgent national interest. Once invoked, the Government is bound to respond and discuss it.

Rajya Sabha MPs can propound a written notice to the chairman of the house seeking suspension of all business for the day. Only the chairman decides whether to permit the invocation of Rule 267, and the rest of the members must adhere to his verdict.

Why is Vice President Dhankar reluctant to the opposition’s demands?

From the day of the commencement of the monsoon session of the Parliament, the opposition laid the demand for Rule 267. Dhankar tried to appease them by saying that the Government had agreed to discuss the Manipur matter under Rule 176 (short discussion).

Leader of Opposition Kharge dissented by maintaining that as the notice submitted by the opposition demanded imposition of Rule 267, they would not relent to anything less. He explained that the gravity of the situation in Manipur called for much more than a mere “thirty-minute discussion.” Chairman Dhankar did not accede to any argument, and after much protest and sloganeering, the house got adjourned. 

The opposition has been alleging from time to time how VP Dhankar kept rejecting their demand for invoking Rule 267. During the winter session of 2022, he annulled eight proposals for Rule 267 within just two days! The matter included discussions on ‘illegal and unprovoked Chinese transgressions’ and ‘inflation.’

When the track record of the previous Chairmen of the Rajya Sabha gets taken into account, a different story unfolds:

  • Under the Chairmanship of Shankar Dayal Sharma, Rule 267 got invoked four times between 1990 and 1992;
  • Under the Chairmanship of Bhairon Singh Sekhawat, Rule 267 got invoked three times in 2000;
  • Under Hamid Ansari’s chair, between 2013 to 2016, four discussions took place under Rule 267.

Pertinent issues like the Jammu and Kashmir Conflict, the Gulf War, the Agrarian Crisis, Corruption Scandals, and the wane of secularism got debated here. Compared to these, the matters raised before VP Dhankar are even more critical, but he appears unrelenting in dragging the Government representatives toward their responsibility.

VP Jagdeep Dhankar, in his response to all these allegations, brazenly maintained, “I am not a statistics-driven person. If there will be an occasion, I will invoke the rule. If there will be no occasion, I will not invoke it.”

In a report for the Indian Express, Derek O’Brien wrote that despite the demands posed by the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Rule 267 did not get invoked even once after demonetisation in 2016.

Why is the PM shy of the Parliament?

Presently, the opposition keeps hankering after one demand. It wants PM Modi to address the Manipur issue and answer the points of concern raised by the opposition parties.

PM Modi inaugurated the redeveloped Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) Complex at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, on July 26th (Wednesday), the same day the opposition kicked up dust in the Rajya Sabha demanding his accountability on the prolonged violence in Manipur.  

Grilling the Prime Minister, Jairam Ramesh (Congress Spokesperson) tweeted, “The prime minister should make a comprehensive statement on the horrific post-May 3 developments in Manipur after which a discussion would take place to express our collective sense of pain, anguish and desire for reconciliation… He (PM) denies, distorts, diverts, deflects and defames. Will he rise to the occasion? Manipur is waiting. The nation is watching.”

Despite wielding exceptional oratory skills, PM Modi lately has shunned numerous appeals by his rival colleagues to address the elephant in the room. In his book “Who Cares About Parliament,” Derek O’Brien gave some interesting figures illustrating PM Modi’s apathy toward his MPship.

O’Brien writes that while Modi spent more than eleven hours delivering speeches in West Bengal during the Assembly Elections 2021, his attendance in the Parliament could not exceed four hours across the different Budget, Monsoon and Winter Sessions. Is there a feasible explanation why the leader of the World’s largest democracy spent thrice the time delivering speeches in election rallies than attending the Parliament that year?

Take Away:

In a parliamentary model of democracy, such as in India, the duty of the Prime Minister is much greater than any other dignitary of the nation. Popularly referred to as the “Crisis manager in chief,” it is pertinent for the opposition to demand a full-fledged discourse from such authority.

The situation has long transcended the nuances of a regional disturbance as numerous traces of involvement from foreign-based militants have gotten discovered. The opposition is well within its rights to demand an extensive discourse with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to frame a collaborative strategy, with a feasible threat to national security hovering over our heads. 

As the Prime Minister and the Vice President kept snubbing its demands, the opposition consolidated to issue a “Vote of No Confidence” against the Government. The floor of the Parliament has got set for a roller-coaster ride, and there is a lot at stake for the nation as the battle between “N.D.A.” and “I.N.D.I.A.” takes place a year before the Lok Sabha elections of 2024. 

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