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‘Sleepless night’: Harivansh on fast

Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Harivansh, who has been accused of not paying heed to the Opposition’s demand for a division of votes on two contentious agricultural reform bills and for overlooking the views of Upper House members sitting in the Lok Sabha chamber at the time, invoked his humble origins in Bihar and went on a day-long fast on Tuesday to protest “humiliating” conduct towards him by some MPs.

Harivansh wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, who is also the Rajya Sabha chairperson, saying protests in the Upper House during the passage of the two bills on Sunday caused him pain, stress and mental tension. “I was not able to sleep the whole night,” he wrote.

Harivansh, who was elected deputy chairperson for the second time on September 14, was in the Chair when the bills were passed in the midst of pandemonium. Opposition parties, who say he denied them their parliamentary rights by ignoring their demands, later drafted a no-confidence motion against Harivansh. It was rejected by Naidu as it was not in proper format and did not give a 14-day notice period.

Footage from the House showed that fierce protests from the Opposition, including senior leaders charging towards the Chair, jumping onto tables; and shooting videos of the ruckus.

“Ugly and unparliamentary slogans were raised. Scenes that can disturb the heart and mind, scenes that bring shame on democracy… I am an introvert, belong to a village and rooted in literature, sensitivity and values,” Harivansh, a leader of Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United), said in his letter.

“In the name of democracy, members of the House indulged in violent behaviour. There was an effort to intimidate the person in the chair. All norms of the Upper House were disregarded. The rule book was torn and thrown over me. The historic table on which officials carry on the work of the Upper House was climbed upon and papers torn. Some were thrown at the chair,” he said. Harivansh said like lighthouses in the dark, institutions determine the future course for societies and countries. “That is why the Rajya Sabha and the position of the Rajya Sabha chairman are more important and glorious, not me,” he wrote.

Harivansh said he was going on fast hoping it would lead to a feeling of “atma-shuddhi (self correction)” in the MPs who had behaved in an unruly manner.

Trinamool Congress floor leader Derek O’Brien and his colleague Dola Sen; Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh; Congress’s Rajeev Satav, Syed Nasir Hussain and Ripun Borah; and KK Ragesh and Elamaram Kareem of the CPI(M) were suspended for seven days each on Monday for their conduct inside the House amid protests that their version of events were not heard.

Since their suspension, the eight MPs were holding a protest on the Parliament premises. They called off the protest around Tuesday noon. The members said what happened inside the Rajya Sabha over the farm bills was “undemocratic” and “against the idea of India”.

“We are equally pained and hurt… He was under pressure from the government, which, in turn, was under pressure from the corporate to get the farm bills passed on that very day. Also, why did he bring media along when he came with tea in the morning?” said Satav.

His reference was to a gesture by Harivansh to bring tea and snacks for the protesting MPs in the morning. “The farmers want justice, not tea. Is this a child’s play? First you murder democracy and then you offer tea? If it was a personal visit, then why did he have two cameras with him?” asked O’Brien, another of those suspended. The government claims that the division of votes could not take place because members did not go to their seats despite repeated pleas by the deputy chairperson.

PM Narendra Modi, meanwhile, said Harivansh’s gesture was proof of his greatness. “To personally serve tea to those who attacked and insulted him a few days ago as well as those sitting on Dharna shows that Shri Harivansh Ji has been blessed with a humble mind and a big heart. It shows his greatness…,” he tweeted.

Naidu, too, backed Harivansh and said he had acted with utmost restraint. “He handled the situation in a very deft manner,” Naidu said in the Rajya Sabha.

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