Meet Om Birla, speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha

The 17th Lok Sabha begins its first session with oaths from MPs raising Hindu nationalist slogans, and Speaker of the House, Om Birla, being sworn in.

As the newly-elected Lok Sabha comes into session, the speaker of the House and various elected members will take their oaths between June 17 and July 26 . Om Birla is the new speaker of the lower house of the Indian parliament. The 17th Lok Sabha also has veteran politicians like LK Advani and Sonia Gandhi.

The first session of the Lok Sabha opened with Hindu nationalist slogans like ‘Jai Shri Ram’, made by many BJP MPs while taking their oaths. When Samajwadi Party MP Rahman Barq opposed this, member of the treasury benches protested against Barq, causing the presiding officer to strike all such slogans from the official record.

The NDA government has a comfortable majority in the house, and the speaker position was not a contentious one. With 303 sitting MPs, the BJP alone has enough votes to push through its policies and decisions.

To assume this position, Om Birla replaced Smitra Mahajan, an eight-time BJP MP from Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Mahajan is one of the only three Lok Sabha members to serve eight terms, the longest-serving woman MP, and the second woman speaker of the House.

57-year-old Birla is a two-time MP from Kota-Bundi constituency in Rajasthan and a three-time MLA from the state. For the speaker position, he had the support of the Opposition and parties like Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK, Janata Dal United, YSR Congress Party, and Mizo National Front.

Amita Birla, Om Birla’s wife, said, “It is a very proud and a happy moment for us. We are very thankful to the cabinet for choosing him.”

Birla filed his nomination and was sworn in as speaker.

Previously, MP Virendra Kumar was sworn in as pro-tem speaker by President Ram Nath Kovind. Kumar is a seven-time BJP MP who was elected from Madhya Pardesh’s Tikamgarh constituency this year.

The pro-tem speaker supervises the oath-taking ceremonies of the Lok Sabha members.

The speaker of the House has more extensive tasks like dictating the House’s parliamentary procedure and carrying out administrative duties. The speaker is the principal spokesperson for the Lok Sabha and their decisions cannot be questioned or challenged by MPs.

“The speaker is at once a member of the House as also its Presiding Officer. It is always the speaker’s task to ensure that parliamentary decorum is maintained under all circumstances,” explains the Lok Sabha.

The speaker also decides when an MP can speak and for how long, if an unruly MP needs to be removed from parliament, and what statements remain on the official record.

Smriti Irani, Sonia Gandhi, and more take oaths

In 2014, the Lok Sabha allowed former Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BJP co-founder, LK Advani, to take their oaths as MPs immediately after the cabinet. This was meant to symbolise Gandhi and Advani’s seniority.

However, this year, Gandhi was not given the special treatment and took her oath in alphabetical order like all other MPs.

Kodikunnil Suresh, a Congress MP from Kerala, took his oath in Hindi and surprised the House. Other MPs appreciated his gesture by thumping on their desks in agreement. Union Minister of State for Development in the North Eastern Region Dr. Jitendra Singh took his oath in Dogri while Minister of Health Dr. Harsh Vardhan took his in Sanskrit.

Smriti Irani’s oath-taking was also enthusiastically received by BJP MPs who applauded her for a long time. Irani fought a tough election race in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, and eventually dethroned Congress president Rahul Gandhi with 50.13% of the vote.

Amethi was considered a bastion for the Congress and, in particular, the Nehru-Gandhi family, so Irani’s win in this constituency was significant victory for BJP.

News18 reports that although Rahul Gandhi is serving as an MP, the Congress has not yet decided on its leader in the Lok Sabha. Congress leader in West Bengal, Adhir Ranjan Chowhury; in Kerala, K Suresh and Shashi Tharoor; and spokesperson, Manish Tewari, are all being considered for the position.

Triple Talaq and Aadhar already on Lok Sabha agenda

The Hindustan Times also reports that by the end of this first session, the Lok Sabha introduced fresh legislation allowing people to voluntarily use their Aadhar cards as ID for opening bank accounts and phone connections.

The Triple Talaq Bill that was previously tabled is now back as the Cabinet approved it. If the bill passes a parliamentary vote, the practice of triple talaq or talaq-e-bidat, where men can orally divorce their wives will become criminalised.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 and Rafale report compiled by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India also lapsed in the 16th session of the Indian parliament, because they were not ratified by the Rajya Sabha before the House was dissolved.

The country can also expect more policies dealing with Modi’s major campaign promises like tightening national security through tighter immigration laws, poverty alleviation through schemes for farmers, and electoral reform.

The Union budget will be presented on July 5.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

Indian PoliticsLok Sabha