The events that came to pass in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday over the controversial farm bills were nothing short of a Bollywood action-thriller.
It all began with the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 being put to vote. As Deputy Chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh asked the lawmakers whether they should go beyond the 1pm deadline set as part of the Covid-19 protocol, ruckus erupted in the Upper House.
While the government was keen to put the bill to vote immediately after Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar’s reply, the opposition, led by Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, wanted the Rajya Sabha to take up the minister’s reply and the vote on Monday. When the government refused, all hell broke loose.
First to come up to the well of the House were Trinamool Congress MPs Arpita Ghosh and Dola Sen, Congress MPs Kumari Shelja and Jairam Ramesh, and AAP lawmaker Sanjay Singh. Then TMC leader Derek O’Brien too came up to the well with the rule book to show that it was a violation of the House rules not to allow division of votes or voting by pressing the button.
O’Brien’s actions are now mired in controversy, with some insisting that he tore the pages of the rule book. A close viewing of the Rajya Sabha footage adds to the confusion. It shows DMK MP Tiruchi Siva throwing a book even as O’brien was close to the chair, showing the deputy chairman the particular rule on button voting.
A video footage shows some torn pages being thrown at the same time. O’brien, however, denies tearing up the rule book. “If even one proof is given of me having torn the rule book, I shall resign as MP tomorrow,” he told News18.
The camera continued to roll on the dramatic events in the Rajya Sabha all this while. But mics were muted and the video feed cut when the opposition staged a sit-in, refusing to vacate the Upper House.
The opposition knew this was coming, so Derek O’Brien, in consultation with some other leaders decided that the proceedings needed to be independently filmed. Theatre artiste and Trinamool Congress’ Arpita Ghosh, who recently became a Rajya Sabha MP, was chosen to capture the thrilling drama. She, along with party colleague Dola Sen, captured the surreal visuals from different angles. In their footage, AAP’s Sanjay Singh was seen standing on the table of the secretary-general till marshals whisked him away, but not before Digvijaya Singh tried to protect him.
At some distance, Congress MPs Rajiv Satav and Ripun Bora sat on the table in front of the chairman. They were pushed by the marshals to come down. In fact, the protesting MPs also put out footage of at least 15 marshals forming a security cordon around the deputy chairman to show that there was no harm or danger to the chair.
While Parliament has witnessed such chaotic scenes in the years before, what’s unprecedented is the visual documentation, filming and narration by protesting MPs, a violation of House rules. Justifying their decision to independently record the events, the opposition MPs say they were left with no choice when Rajya Sabha cameras were blanked out.
The sequence of events has made the opposition a pumped up bunch, with regional rivals like Trinamool Congress and the Congress putting up a united fight. The Trinamool Congress can use today’s theatrics as a springboard for next year’s Bengal assembly elections, the Congress gets to dust off its pro-farmer image, and the AAP gets to do the same in Punjab. For fence-sitters like BSP and BJP, the theatrics offered an easy escape from spelling out their stand.