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India’s lawmakers take oath without duo behind bars

todayJune 25, 2024 5

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India’s newly elected lawmakers took the oath of office Tuesday, but without two vocal government critics unable to take their seats because they are jailed on national security charges.

One is the Sikh separatist Amritpal Singh, a firebrand preacher arrested last year after a month-long police manhunt in Punjab state.

The other is Sheikh Abdul Rashid, a former state legislator in Indian-administered Kashmir, known popularly as Engineer Rashid.

Rashid, arrested on charges of “terror funding” and money laundering in 2019, is awaiting his latest bail hearing on July 1, his lawyer Ubaid Shams told AFP.

The family of Singh, an advocate of the banned Khalistan movement for an independent Sikh homeland — the struggle for which sparked deadly violence in the 1980s and 1990s — said they had no news on whether he could take the oath.

“We don’t know whether he will come out of jail or not”, his father Tarsem Singh told AFP.

“We are at our village, and haven’t heard anything from the government,” he said from his home in rural Punjab.

“We don’t know what the authorities are thinking about his release.”

Rashid’s name was called out in parliament on Monday when lawmakers began taking their oaths, with Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi the first to take the stand.

Modi, 73, on Monday appealed to an emboldened opposition for “consensus” following an election setback that forced him into a coalition government for the first time in a decade.

The parliamentary session, which will run until July 3, will also see the likely formal appointment of Rahul Gandhi as leader of the opposition — a post vacant since 2014.

Modi’s first two terms in office followed landslide wins for his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), allowing his government to drive laws through parliament with only cursory debate.

However, the BJP won only 240 seats in this year’s poll, its worst showing in a decade, and 32 seats below a majority.

That forced it to rely on coalition allies to build a 293-seat majority in the 543-seat lower house.

But Modi has kept a firm grip on power, with all key cabinet posts held by the BJP.

Veteran BJP lawmaker Om Birla, the speaker in the previous parliament, has also been nominated for the post again.

While Birla is expected to easily win the vote on Wednesday, the opposition Congress party also nominated a lawmaker for the post, Kodikunnil Suresh.

Observers say the defiant challenge — unusual in previous Indian parliaments — is an indication of the reinvigorated parliament.

Congress, the key party in a disparate anti-Modi alliance, nearly doubled its parliamentary numbers, its best result since Modi was swept to power a decade ago.

Gandhi, 54, is the scion of a dynasty that dominated Indian politics for decades and is the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, beginning with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.





Written by: Staff Writer

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