In an exclusive interview with Deputy Editor Kaushik Deka, O’Brien explains why he is opposed to the contentious bill
On the last day of the winter session of Parliament, TMC’s parliamentary party leader in the Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien was suspended for throwing the rule book at the chair. The veteran leader in the upper house had been opposing the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, tabled in Parliament by Union law minister Kiren Rijiju. The bill, among other things, seeks to connect electoral rolls to the Aadhar ecosystem. While the government claims that this will help the Election Commission of India clean up the electoral rolls and rid them of duplication and fake voters, the Opposition parties claim this will compromise the privacy of citizens and make them vulnerable to electoral arm-twisting. In an exclusive interview with Deputy Editor Kaushik Deka, O’Brien explains why he is opposed to the contentious bill
There are many ways to protest in Parliament. What made you throw the rule book at the chair? How can you justify this?
This BJP government has broken every rule, precedent and tradition of Parliament. Opposition voices are muzzled, Sansad TV is censored. Now they have the gall to talk about the rule book?
Q. If the government has the numbers in Parliament, and they are passing the bills, why do you call it bulldozing?
The government doesn’t have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, so they wanted to manufacture a majority by arbitrarily suspending and keeping 12 Opposition MPs outside. They snatched away the rights of these MPs. They have even taken away our right as MPs to ask for division (electronic vote). This is unprecedented. Modi and Shah carry a sharp knife to Parliament every day to stab at the very heart of democracy
Why do you think the Rajya Sabha, including the chairman, is functioning in a biased manner and is harsh on Opposition members?
The whole country is watching. How were the Farm Bills bulldozed through? Decades-long traditions are being upended. Only around 1 out of 10 bills are sent to a select committee for scrutiny. The last discussion under Rule 267 was allowed in 2016. In the first 30 years after independence, 1 out of every 10 bills was an ordinance, the number is around 3.5 now. Two gentlemen have reduced Parliament to MSG, the Modi Shah Gymkhana. Hitler burned down Parliament, the Modi-Shah duo is slow poisoning it.
Q. What’s your objection to the proposal to link electoral rolls to the Aadhar ecosystem? The Election Commission (EC) claims it will clean up the electoral rolls.
The government claims that this linking will be voluntary; if that is the case, then how will it reduce duplication and clean up the electoral rolls? Linking the voter data with Aadhaar could enable voter profiling and surveillance, and could be a threat to the very idea of a secret ballot, which is the very cornerstone of our democracy.
Q. By objecting to the bill, you are saying that you don’t have trust in the wisdom of the EC and also the parliamentary standing committee which advocated this linking?
Don’t push me to speak about the EC, because some already say EC stands for ‘electorally compromised’. There are two issues–we oppose the bill on procedure and content. This is a hopeless bill. Like the government had to eat humble pie and repeal the farm bills, they will have to do likewise for this as well.