A day after an unpleasant exchange of words between Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Karnataka Minister Sa Ra Mahesh in flood-hit Kodagu district, the Ministry of Defence on Saturday said that it was unfortunate the way he behaved, adding some of his subsequent personal remarks against her were in bad taste.
In an official clarification, the Ministry of Defence referred to media reports that she got angry with Mahesh during the flood review meeting with the Kodagu district administrator and said Mahesh's remark lowered the dignity of the Rajya Sabha which showed utter lack of regard and knowledge about Indian polity.
Sitharaman said the programme for the flood affected areas was finalised by the district administration in consultation with the public representatives. It was approved and circulated to all concerned two days before her arrival. Subsequently on the request of the district administrator an interaction with ex-army veterans was added to the schedule.
The defence minister said on completion of the field visit as per the programme, she was interacting with the ex-servicemen who were affected by the floods when Mahesh objected and insisted that the meeting of the officials must be conducted first.
She clarified that welfare of the ex-servicemen was an essential part of the defence ministry and the same was scheduled in the programme. However, the district administration insisted that she immediately stop the interaction and proceed to the meeting with the officials.
"While it was extremely unfortunate, in order to avoid the situation from deteriorating, defence minister immediately halted the meeting and proceeded to the venue of the meeting with the officials. The venue was already set up for the press conference and hurriedly the officials were summoned to sit among the mediapersons for the review. It was unprecedented to hold a meeting with the officials, with all mediapersons present," the clarification said.
It said she then heard the grievances of the waiting ex-servicemen. Inspite of the district administration finalising the programme and the defence minister following the same in its entirety, it was unfortunate that the minister behaved the way he did.
"Subsequently, the personal remarks against the defence minister were also in bad taste, which did not merit a response."
The ministry also said there has been gross misinterpretation with regard to the use of the term 'parivar' by the defence minister during the press conference. It maintained that one of the four departments of the defence ministry is the department of the ex-servicemen welfare and in that context it was stated that all ex-servicemen were part of the ministry of defence parivar.
"Any other inference is misconstrued and uncalled for," she said.
The row erupted when Sitharaman was interacting with a group of affected people when Sa Ra Mahesh, he district in-charge minister, told her that officials were waiting for her for a review meeting and they have to go for rehabilitation work.
He said she can first address the officials to which Sitharaman too agreed.
However, Sitharaman noted that she was only going by the minute-by-minute programme drawn up for her visit and she had been following the minister in-charge and the itinerary.
“I follow the minister in charge. Central minister follows the minister in charge here. Unbelievable! You have a list of minute-to-minute for me to follow… I am doing as per your schedule,” she said.
Sitharaman, Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, then sought to know how many of the officials were from the field taking care of the rehabilitation work and said she did not want the work to be upset.
Later, Mahesh dubbed Sitharaman’s comments as a reaction to the demand for funds from the centre to Kodagu.
“She would have known the pain had she contested election by standing with the electorate, going to every house, meeting voters and asked their problems. She has been elected to Rajya Sabha from Karnataka,” he told media.
The heavy rains that lashed the district last week has left a huge trail of destruction and claimed at least 17 lives. More than 5,000 people have been rendered homeless.