Return of ‘Singham’: Birla seen as toughest Speaker after Somnath

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BY RAJNISH SINGH
New Delhi, March 5 (IANS)
Who knew that BJP’s Kota-Bundi MP Om Birla would change the concept of house’s proceedings in terms of taking tough decisions and adherence to rules and principles when he was elected as Speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha last year.
The agriculturist and social worker’s strict cautions to both treasury and opposition benches have been evident since he took charge last year, but his decision to suspend seven Congress MPs on Thursday for the remaining part of the Budget session reminded the moves taken by Somnath Chatterjee — the first Left MP to become speaker of the Lok Sabha.
To maintain the dignity of the house, Birla took the decisions to suspend the seven Congress MPs who not only reached near his podium but also snatched a paper from there when BJP’s Rama Devi was presiding over the house.
While the decision of the 57-year low-profile leader faced criticism by opposition, many compared him with Chatterjee who was expelled from CPI-M on July 23, 2008 for not obeying the party command to step down from his post after the Left withdrew support to the then Manmohan Singh government over the Indo-US nuclear deal. This was just a day after the two-day special session of the Lok Sabha began on July 21 for the UPA government to prove its majority.
But Chatterjee decided to continue as Speaker against his party leadership’s wishes, taking the view that he was above party politics in the post.
Many tough decisions were taken by other Speakers too in the past but Birla is seen among the toughest presiding officers in the Lok Sabha, taking strict action against “errant” MPs as well as other decisions which include late night proceedings during the Monsoon Session last year that created history.
Perturbed with the ruckus created in the Lok Sabha by the opposition since Monday — the first day one of the second phase of the Budget session, Birla stayed his hand when BJP and Congress members pushed and shoved each other on the first two days but he could not stop himself on taking stern action on Thursday.
He ordered the suspension of Congress’s Gaurav Gogoi, T.N Prathapan, Dean Kuriakose, Benny Behanam, Manickam Tagore, Rajmohan Unnithan and Gurjeet Singh Aujla for the entire session when things turned ugly in Lok Sabha in the afternoon. Government sources said that their suspension will continue even after they apologise for their act which the House staffs and several Ministers confirmed was never done in last 70 years.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, as well as his many of his colleagues, contended that the way the seven parliamentarians crossed their limits, the Speaker had to take the decision.
Going near the Speaker’s Chair and snatching the “formula” of a Bill copy from the Chair’s table when a Marshal was handing over it to the Chair was attributed by government as most “condemnable” and “height of indiscipline”.
The Speaker has also accepted the government’s call to form a committee and examine their conduct for possible disqualification, sources said.
“Snatching papers from the Speaker’s table is utmost disrespect to the Chair. Those who snatched papers from the Chair, their membership should be terminated,” the Parliamentary Affairs Minister said.
Birla had on Monday suspended two Congress MPs for a day after they jostled with Marshals in the House, leading to adjournment of proceedings.
Much to the consternation of Lok Sabha members, Birla had, in the winter session last year, asked the secretariat of the House to track the participation of each member in the business of the lower chamber of Parliament. The records since then are being put up on the Lok Sabha website and regularly updated.
He has spoken on the neutrality of presiding officers in legislatures, saying they should take impartial decisions on defections in a time-bound manner which could not be questioned by the judiciary.
In an event, Birla had said that “a Speaker should be neutral and impartial and should take non-controversial decisions on defections in a time-bound manner while keeping in mind the dignity of his or her post”.
The two-time MP from the parliamentary seat in Rajasthan had succeed eight-term MP and BJP stalwart Sumitra Mahajan. He is considered close to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister and former BJP President Amit Shah.
Emerging from the student politics, Birla had won his first assembly elections from Kota South in 2003 and was re-elected in 2008 and 2013. He made his foray into national politics in 2014, getting elected to the Lok Sabha from the Kota constituency and retained his seat in 2019.
The guardian of power and privileges of members of the Parliaments, the Speaker is also responsible for maintaining parliamentary decorum, deriving his powers from the Constitution of India, parliamentary conventions, and rules of procedure and conduct of business of Lok Sabha.

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