First day of 18th Lok Sabha begins on stormy note; Modi, Kharge in war of words over Emergency

Opposition staged a protest march inside Parliament complex, with MPs of the INDIA bloc raising slogans on "saving democracy" and displaying copies of the Constitution.
Congress MPs Mallikarjun Kharge and Sonia Gandhi with Samajwadi Party MPs Akhilesh Yadav, Awadhesh Prasad and others at the Parliament House complex on the first day of the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, Monday, June 24, 2024.
Congress MPs Mallikarjun Kharge and Sonia Gandhi with Samajwadi Party MPs Akhilesh Yadav, Awadhesh Prasad and others at the Parliament House complex on the first day of the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, Monday, June 24, 2024.

New Delhi | The first day of the 18th Lok Sabha began on a stormy note on Monday amid a war of words between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge over the imposition of Emergency in 1975 and strident appeals to protect democracy.

As the opening session saw a total of 262 newly-elected MPs, including the prime minister, taking oath, the opposition staged a protest march inside Parliament complex, with MPs of the INDIA bloc raising slogans on "saving democracy" and displaying copies of the Constitution. The remaining new MPs will take oath on Tuesday, while the election for the post of Speaker is scheduled for Wednesday.

In his customary pre-session remarks, Modi also said people want a good and responsible opposition and asserted that his government will strive to take everyone along and build a consensus.

People want substance, not slogans, he told reporters, in an apparent reference to several previous sessions that were marred by the absence of a debate due to adjournments caused by frequent run-ins between the treasury and opposition benches.

The session commenced under the shadow of the medical exam NEET controversy and cancellation of UGC-NET exam, the recent terror attacks in Kashmir, West Bengal train accident, and the Tamil Nadu hooch tragedy. A rejuvenated opposition is set to corner the government on these issues, besides focussing on unemployment, price rise and economic disparities, during the short session.

President Droupadi Murmu would be addressing the joint sitting of both houses on June 27, after which the two houses would discuss and pass the motion of thanks on her address. Modi will reply to the discussion in both houses next week.

Prime Minister Modi utilised the customary event to take a swipe at the Congress over the Emergency, calling it a "black spot" on democracy when the Constitution was "discarded".

On June 25, 1975, the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, a Congress stalwart, imposed Emergency in the country, suspending civil liberties, jailing opposition leaders and dissidents and effecting press censorship. The 1975-77 Emergency anniversary falls on Tuesday.

The prime minister said the new generation will never forget the day when the Constitution of India was completely rejected by suppressing democracy and the country was turned into a prison.

Modi also exhorted people to take a resolve to protect democracy and democratic traditions of India so that such an event never arises again.

"We will take the resolution of a vibrant democracy and fulfill the dreams of the common people according to the Constitution of India."

Modi's references to Emergency prompted the opposition members to hit back, with Kharge accusing him of imposing "undeclared Emergency" in the last 10 years, which the people of the country have ended by not giving the BJP a majority.

Kharge said the prime minister made a longer than usual customary address "but clearly, even after the moral and political defeat, the arrogance remains".

"Narendra Modi ji, you are giving advice to the Opposition. You are reminding us of the 50-year-old Emergency, but have forgotten the last 10 years of Undeclared Emergency, which was ended by the people," the Congress president said in a post on 'X'.

"People have given their mandate against Modi ji. Despite this, if he has become the Prime Minister, then he should work," Kharge said, adding that the nation was hoping that he would say something on important issues.

Recalling the prime minister's words that "people need substance, not slogans", Kharge said he should remind himself of this.

"The opposition and INDIA Janbandhan want consensus in Parliament, we will keep raising the voice of the people in the House, on the streets and before everyone. We will protect the Constitution," Kharge said.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also claimed that the strong opposition would not allow the prime minister to change the Constitution and would protect it at all costs.

"INDIA's strong opposition will continue its pressure, raise the voice of the people and will not allow the Prime Minister to escape without accountability."

The prime minister in his remarks also underlined that the government’s responsibility has increased threefold as the people have elected the government for a third term. He assured the citizens that the government would work three times harder than before while also bringing three times the results.

Touching upon the role of the opposition, Modi said the people of the country expect them to play their role to the fullest while maintaining the dignity of democracy.

"I hope that the opposition will live up to it."

Earlier, BJP member and 7-time member Bhartruhari Mahtab was elected the Protem Speaker and was administered oath by President Murmu.

Congress member K Suresh, who is an eight-time MP and a strong claimant to the Protem Speaker's post, DMK MP T R Baalu and TMC's Sudip Bandyopadhyay did not take oath when their names were called among the panel of chairpersons to assist the Protem Speaker. Suresh took oath later.

The Lok Sabha also witnessed a display of linguistic diversity, with newly-elected MPs taking oaths in English and Indian languages, including Sanskrit, Hindi, Dogri, Bengali, Assamese and Odia.

Prime Minister Modi took his oath in Hindi amid slogans of "Jai Shri Ram" from the treasury benches.

Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan took oath amid chants of NEET-NET by the opposition members even as a controversy raged on the entrance examinations that has put the government in the dock.

Opposition leaders, including Kharge, Rahul Gandhi, Trinamool Congress' Sudip Bandyopadhyay and DMK's TR Baalu assembled at the spot where the statue of Mahatma Gandhi statue once stood in the Parliament complex for their protests. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is a member of the Rajya Sabha, also joined the MPs.

Holding copies of the Constitution in their hands, they raised slogans such as "long live Constitution", "we will save Constitution", "save our democracy".

Rahul Gandhi said they would not allow the Constitution to be "attacked" by Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

"This attack is not acceptable to us and that is why we held the Constitution and took oath," he added.

The BJP-led NDA leaders criticised the opposition MPs for taking out "save Constitution" march to Parliament, saying they should now consider how to take the country on the path of progress ending political matters as the elections are over.

BJP MP and former Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said it was the Congress government which had "murdered" the democracy and the Constitution by imposing Emergency.

"They (Congress) reminded the entire nation today that they are the murderers of democracy. Shame on them," he added.

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