Indian lawmakers are presently participating in a five-day special parliamentary session, called for by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The announcement of this session, made last month, took opposition lawmakers by surprise. On Monday, Mr. Modi indicated that the session might be relatively brief, yet he emphasized that it would encompass “momentous decisions.”
According to the government, eight bills have been put forth for discussion during this session. Nevertheless, opposition leaders have questioned whether a special session is necessary to discuss these bills, given that lawmakers had already scheduled a later meeting for the winter session of parliament this year. It is noteworthy that the government retains the flexibility to modify or expand the session’s agenda during the course of the week.
Traditionally, Indian lawmakers convene for regular parliamentary business three times a year – a budget session, a monsoon session, and a winter session. Special sessions do not occur frequently; as legislative expert Chakshu Roy points out, authorities have convened them “on specific occasions, like commemorating parliamentary or national milestones.”
The government has called upon lawmakers to participate in a commemorative event on Tuesday, designed to “celebrate the rich legacy” of India’s parliament. After this event, India’s newly inaugurated parliament building, unveiled by Prime Minister Modi in May, will host the session, even though opposition leaders boycotted the ceremony. This signifies the first session held in the new building, which supplants the older, British-era parliament.
The initial announcement of this special session last month sparked criticism from opposition leaders, primarily centered on concerns regarding the “secrecy” surrounding the session’s agenda. Some commentators speculated about potential outcomes, such as the government calling early elections or altering the country’s name from India to Bharat (following a controversy over a potential name change). However, the government has not issued any official comments or confirmations regarding these speculations.
In the lead-up to the current session, the government released a “tentative agenda” last week, outlining four bills for debate. Among these is a contentious bill that proposes changes to the appointment process for India’s chief election commissioner. Opposition parties have voiced strong objections to this bill, characterizing it as “undemocratic” and contending that it would diminish the independence of the Election Commission and its officials. Nevertheless, the government has not officially confirmed whether it will indeed address this bill during the five-day session.