The deliberate heckling of opposition MPs by members of the ruling BJP with slogans of Jai Shri Ram, Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Vande Mataram while taking oath in the Lok Sabha was a clear attempt at institutionalising majoritarianism and intimidating the Opposition and those with differing views. Such bullying goes against the very tenets of democracy even when done on the streets. That the BJP MPs did so in Parliament shows the scant respect they have for the institutions of democracy, and that’s unpardonable. While the slogans themselves may not be unparliamentary, using them to shout down Opposition members, especially those from the minority community, was an attack on India’s plurality and diversity. To employ Ram’s name to taunt and to settle political scores is to stain both Hindu beliefs and the country’s secular fabric. The behaviour of the BJP MPs in the very temple of democracy means that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘sabka saath, sabka vishwas’ slogan may be no more than an empty promise that the party does not intend to live by. One of the members, Asaduddin Owaisi, who was also jeered, responded with his own slogan, “Jai Bhim, Jai Mim, Takbeer Allahu Akbar, Jai Hind.” While he, too, is within his rights to invoke his god’s name without mocking others like the treasury benches did, it is unfortunate that the Lok Sabha was reduced to a platform for street-style sloganeering.
Elected members are expected to forget their religious and caste differences, even party lines, not indulge in competitive identity politics on the floor of the House, and work together in the national interest, with the Constitution as their guiding light. This is the oath they took. Samajwadi Party MP Shafiqur Rahman responded to the sloganeering with a strong proclamation of “Constitution Zindabad,” but it was lost on the BJP members. Only a day before, the prime minister had reached out to the Opposition saying, “Do not bother about your numbers. In Parliament we should forget about paksh (treasury) and vipaksh (opposition)…” The BJP members’ conduct was in stark variance with that principle. Modi’s failure to admonish them only gives rise to doubt whether he meant what he said.
Parliament is a hallowed institution and does not belong to any party, ideology or community. It belongs to all people of India. As custodians of the Parliament of the biggest democracy in the world, the MPs are expected to conduct themselves with utmost dignity and solemnity. Or, are the BJP MPs too drunk on their electoral success and power to recognise that with great power comes great responsibility?