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Art of gagging opponents

Calcutta, Dec. 4: The Left’s allegation that the government was “stifling the voice” of the Opposition in the House is a throwback to the eighties and nineties when similar accusations were made against the communists, who were in power then.

“When the Left was in power, where was democracy inside the House?” Trinamul MP Saugata Roy asked today.

Several Assembly old-timers said the “tradition of not giving the Opposition its due” in the Assembly started during the Left rule, when Jyoti Basu was chief minister.

A former Left MLA pointed out a “subtle difference” in the way the Left and Trinamul regimes “muzzled” the Opposition’s voice. “We used to do it tactfully while this government is gagging the Opposition openly,” he said.

A CPM leader said the Left government had introduced a rule that had made it impossible for the Opposition to table no-confidence motions against the government. The rule had made it mandatory for no-trust motions to be backed by one-sixth of the total MLAs.

“It worked out to 49 MLAs in the 294-member House. As the Opposition fell short of the number between 1977 and 1995, it could not move no-confidence motions,” a CPM leader said.

The Trinamul government has lowered the requirement to one-tenth of the strength of the House.

Trinamul’s Roy cited another example of how the Left had “systematically stifled” the Opposition’s voice.

“Whenever the Opposition criticised the Left government, CPM MLAs brought privilege motions against the aggrieved legislators. The Speaker used to admit them to prevent the Opposition from raising such issues again. I think the CPM is now being paid back in its own coin,” he said.

The Congress had been accused of not fighting such tactics tooth and nail, prompting then Youth Congress leader Mamata Banerjee to dub the party “CPM’s B team”.

After Trinamul won 60 seats in the 2001 Assembly elections, the party adopted a more aggressive approach but allegations of the Left disregarding the party’ queries and pleas in the House continued to be made.

Trinamul legislators used to complain that then Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim kept turning down adjournment motions, denying the Opposition the chance to discuss important issues.

The Left had turned down Trinamul’s demand for discussions in the Assembly on the government’s move to impose Section 144 in Singur. The Left had also rejected Trinamul’s plea for a statement from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on the police firing in Nandigram, citing a CBI probe.

“But it is true that the Left chief ministers used to come to the Assembly regularly,” a Trinamul MLA said.

An Assembly source recalled how some CPM MLAs had allegedly got “goons” to throw out Congress MLAs who had laid siege to the Speaker’s podium in 1983 protesting rigging in panchayat polls.

Some Congress MLAs had often been at the receiving end of Basu’s taunts inside the House.