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‘Attempt to Stifle Opposition’s Voice’: Citizens Condemn LS Chair for Interrupting Mahua Moitra’s Speech

The signatories protested against subsequent attempts by Speaker Om Birla to invoke his constitutional privilege and ‘threaten action’ against TMC MP Mahua Moitra.

A group of concerned citizens including noted personalities on Wednesday condemned the alleged cutting off of Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra’s 13-minute speech in the Parliament that was sharply critical of the state of affairs under the present government.

On February 3, Moitra was participating in the motion of thanks on the president’s address to a joint sitting of Parliament. In her speech, she was slamming the Narendra Modi-led government and addressing issues ranging from Pegasus snooping case to the ailing Indian democracy when she was interrupted by the chair of the House and Presiding Officer, Rama Devi. Moitra was asked by her to “speak with love” and not “anger” even as she was delivering an impassioned speech critiquing the government.

This, in our view, is a clear attempt to stifle the voice of the political opposition. Thereafter, the matter was taken to the wider public when Ms Moitra with a huge social media following sharply criticised this attempt to stifle a detailed critique of the current government’s functioning,” the concerned citizens said in a statement. Among the signatories of the statement were Laila Tyabji (crafts activist and designer), Naseeruddin Shah (actor), Shabana Azmi (actor), Javed Akhtar (poet/lyricist), Aruna Roy (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan), Prashant Bhushan (senior advocate), and Teesta Setalvad (journalist/activist), etc.

The signatories also protested against the subsequent attempts by Speaker Om Birla to invoke constitutional privilege and threaten action against Ms Moitra when the presiding officer, Ms Rama Devi is in fact responsible for violating the privilege accorded to the Speaker’s chair."

Soon after her speech was cut short, Mahua criticised the chair and completed her speech outside the House in presence of the media. Later, she tweeted multiple posts to alleging that the chair had stopped her speech before the allotted time of 13 minutes.

And who is Chair to interrupt me (taking up MY valuable time) to lecture me on whether I should speak with gussa or pyar? None of your business Madam. You can only correct me on rules. You are NOT the moral science teacher for LS,” she tweeted.

Reacting to Moitra’s comments on Devi, Birla said in the following in the House without naming the TMC MP: “Honourable members, I want to bring a subject to your notice that, be it inside the house or outside the house, comments made on the chair is not good for the dignity of the house,” he said.

Birla underlined that the speaker’s chair had “constitutional rights”, and they try to be “impartial” while running the House by the rules. He added that in cases of difference of opinion, the MPs could always visit the chair’s chamber to talk about it.

Meanwhile, the India Today also reported citing sources that Birla might initiate action against Moitra for her public protest against the chair.

Deploring Birla’s actions, the statement of the concerned citizen said, “The Speaker (and in this instance, the Presiding officer) is a crucial constitutional post that represents the dignity and power of the House over which he/she presides. (…) It is the fundamental duty of the presiding officer to not just permit all shades of political opinion but ensure that these are not stifled by brute displays of majoritarianism. Unfortunately, since 2014 we are seeing a complete blurring of the contours of necessary constitutional conduct and behaviour. It is imperative that all voices and shades of political opinion find dignified space of expression in Indian Parliament.

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