The ruling political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has called for the formation of a special committee in the Lok Sabha, to investigate whether Rahul Gandhi, a prominent leader of the opposition Congress party, should be suspended for comments he made during his recent visit to the United Kingdom. The BJP has accused Gandhi of insulting India, its democracy, and Parliament during his speeches at Cambridge University and Chatham House.
Gandhi’s comments made on February 28 at Cambridge University that “Indian democracy is under attack,” and that the institutions required for a democracy, such as Parliament, a free press, and an independent judiciary, were being constrained, have been condemned by the BJP as “denigrating” and “unwarranted.” During a discussion at Chatham House on March 6, Gandhi stated that Indian democracy was a global public good and that its collapse would have serious consequences for democracy worldwide.
The BJP has accused Gandhi of making a “calculated attempt” to bring Indian institutions into disrepute on foreign soil. While Rahul has denied the allegations and refused to apologize, the BJP has called for a special committee to be formed to investigate the matter.
Constitutional expert and former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha, Subhash C. Kashyap, has said that it is up to the House to determine whether Rahul’s comments constitute a breach of Parliament’s privilege or contempt of the House. Kashyap suggests that the Privileges Committee might investigate Rahul’s allegation that the mics of Opposition MPs are switched off when they speak, as it could be seen as an insult to the Chair. However, his statement that Indian democracy is under attack is unlikely to amount to a breach of Parliament’s privilege.
Another former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha, PDT Achary, notes that the House has full authority to decide on what it deems as contempt. He suggests that a special committee could be formed by moving a motion for the establishment of such a committee and its terms of reference. The committee could be similar to the one that was set up to investigate the cash-for-votes scandal in 2008, which was constituted to investigate and punish MPs accused of accepting cash in return for asking questions in Parliament.
The BJP has argued that Rahul’s case should not be “one of the many issues before the committee” and has called for a special committee on the lines of the one constituted to look into the cash-for-query scandal in 2005. If a special committee is formed to investigate Rahul’s case, the BJP, given its strength in the Lok Sabha, will have a majority in the committee. The committee usually submits its report in a month, can sit daily, and can call Rahul for an explanation. However, it is unclear whether the BJP actually wants to have Rahul suspended, or if the party simply wants to use the issue to score political points against the Congress party.