“Whatever I had to say, I have said and that is the truth. They can expunge as much as they want, but the truth will prevail,” a defiant Rahul Gandhi said Tuesday, a day after some parts of his first speech as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, as part of the discussion on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address, were expunged from the records.

Rahul also wrote to Speaker Om Birla claiming that the manner in which parts and portions of his address were expunged was “against parliamentary democracy”, and alleged that former Union minister Anurag Thakur’s speech “(that was) full of allegations” was not expunged. “I request that the remarks expunged from the records be restored,” he wrote.

Rahul’s consistent attacks on the PM and the BJP during his address Monday had provoked strong reaction from the Treasury Benches, and a rare intervention by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Correspondingly, large portions of the speech of Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who is the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, on Monday, attacking the RSS and Modi, were also expunged.

Monday’s expungements thus drew an instant parallel to developments in Parliament in February last year, when large portions of Rahul’s speech in the Lok Sabha in relation to Modi and industrialist Gautam Adani were expunged. In all, 18 remarks he made during his 53-minute speech were removed from the records.

Festive offer

A day later, six remarks made by Kharge, then also LoP, Rajya Sabha, on the same issue were expunged. In his complaint to Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar, Kharge said that any criticism of the government, its policies and their ramifications could never “lower the dignity of the House”.

With the relations between the Modi government and Opposition being constantly strained since it came to power, in February 2020, remarks made by the PM in the Rajya Sabha were expunged from official records in a rare move. Then Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu expunged a word used by Modi during his reply to a discussion on Motion of Thanks on the President’s address at the start of the Budget Session. Modi had spoken about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the planned National Population Register exercise in his speech.

While the expungement of words, sentences, or portions of a speech from parliamentary records is a routine procedure, it has become contentious given the strained ties between the Treasury and Opposition Bench. The decision on which parts of the proceedings are to be expunged lies entirely with the Presiding Officer of the House – the Speaker in the case of the Lok Sabha, and the Chairman in the case of the Rajya Sabha.

The provision was made to make sure that the freedom of speech guaranteed inside Parliament was not misused. Article 105(2) of the Constitution says, “… no Member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said… in Parliament or any committee thereof”. However, their speech remains subject to the Rules of Parliament, “good sense” of its members, and the control of proceedings by the Speaker, with these checks seen as necessary to ensure that MPs do not use “defamatory or indecent or undignified or unparliamentary” words” inside the House.

According to Rule 380 (“Expunction”) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, “If the Speaker is of opinion that words have been used in debate which are defamatory or indecent or unparliamentary or undignified, the Speaker may, while exercising discretion, order that such words be expunged from the proceedings of the House.”

Rule 381 mandates the expunged portions to be marked by asterisks and carry an explanatory footnote which reads “Expunged as ordered by the Chair”.

Besides, there is a list of “unparliamentary words” that cannot be used by MPs, which is updated from time to time. In 2022, the BJP-led NDA government last came out with a 50-page compilation of unparliamentary words, which was slammed by the Opposition as a “gag order”. While it contained words and expressions which would probably be considered rude or offensive in most cultures, some of the inclusions were thought to be fairly harmless or innocuous.