New Delhi — More than half of all opposition lawmakers have been barred from the ongoing session of India’s parliament for demanding a debate into a protest last week in which a smoke canister was released in the legislature.
The suspended 141 lawmakers belong to an opposition grouping of 26 parties dubbed INDIA — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance — formed to fight general elections slated for early next year.
On Dec. 13, a man stunned lawmakers when he jumped from an overhead visitor’s gallery onto the floor of the lower house of parliament and released yellow smoke from a canister.
The following day, 14 MPs were barred from the chamber for protesting the security breach and, on Monday, 78 more opposition lawmakers were suspended from the rest of the session, which ends Friday.
A further 49 were barred on Tuesday after they shouted slogans inside parliament, demanding that powerful interior minister Amit Shah resign.
“The opposition is being completely decimated so that dangerous bills can be passed without any meaningful debate,” suspended MP and opposition Congress party leader Jairam Ramesh said on X, formerly Twitter.
The smoke canister protest came on the 22nd anniversary of an attack on parliament, then in an older building, when five gunmen shot dead at least eight security personnel and a gardener.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a rare interview with the Dainik Jagran newspaper, called the incident “very serious” and ordered a detailed investigation, but said there was “no need” for a debate.
The premier, who remains widely popular, is seeking a third consecutive term in national elections due by May next year.
Under Modi, India has slumped in Freedom House’s rankings for political rights and civil liberties, with police cracking down on protests, the ruling party scoring lavish funding from business allies, and press freedoms curtailed.