The Congress on Wednesday sparred with the government over Ram Nath Kovind's maiden speech where the new President skipped mention of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. With the Congress issuing notice to raise the issue under Rule 267, Leader of the House Arun Jaitley accused that adjournment notices were being "grossly abused" for publicity. The House witnessed acrimonious scenes and three adjournments over Jaitley's remarks.
Trouble started soon after the House met for the day at 11 am when Congress leader Anand Sharma wanted to raise the issue of Kovind’s speech under Rule 267, which prescribes suspension of business to take up a matter. Several members had given notices under Rule 267. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien did not allow several of these notices but asked Sharma to spell out his matter.
'BJP undermining leaders of the freedom movement'
Sharma said the NDA government was making efforts to undermine the stature of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
"Every country and society respects nation builders, so has been the culture in India. Like Gandhi is respected and has the highest stature in the nation. Along with him was Jawaharlal Nehru who even went to jail," Sharma said.
"Gandhi was compared to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay yesterday," he said, referring to Kovind's speech where the President called for the "need to sculpt a robust, high growth economy, an educated, ethical and shared community, and an egalitarian society, as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi and Deen Dayal Upadhyay ji."
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government was trying to insult leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru who had fought for India's independence.
"The centenary of those people are being observed who had no connection with the freedom struggle. They are doing 'pick and choose'," he alleged.
'Adjournment notices being grossly abused for publicity'
Jaitley, Minister of Finance and Defence, objected to Sharma's remarks, saying adjournment notices were being "grossly abused" for publicity.
Amid the protests by Congress members, Jaitley went on to say, "In every case, we have found these are not issues under the motion of Rule 267 and therefore, it is a practice which is being grossly abused. Therefore, the Chair must also be guided by a principle that you can't have a Zero Hour for the benefit of TV cameras. That is what something which is happening today. ... This has all been enacted."
He demanded that Sharma's remarks be expunged. "Anand Sharma's whole speech has to be expunged. Reference to a high constitutional authority is not allowed in the house. What is the purpose of dragging...we know the spirit of what you are saying," Jaitley said.
He said some other members have also given notices and the Chair must protect their rights. He was apparently referring to a notice given by BJP member Subramanian Swamy to raise the issue of Samjhauta Express blast of 2005, regarding which some media reports have suggested that some crucial evidence had been ignored.
Kurien said all notices under Rule 267 were being rejected but the Chair has to first listen to the member to take a decision.
Jaitley also insisted that rules do not allow references being made in the House to those who have held high Constitutional positions.
Sharma, however, said he had not referred to any high dignity. To this, Jaitley said, "we know the spirit of what you are saying."
DMK member Thiruchi Siva said he was "hurt" by Jaitley's remarks that issues were being raised for TV publicity.
To this, Jaitley said, "Every day what is not point of order is raised as point of order knowing fully that you are violating the rule.
"None of us were born today that we don't realise each other's games. We know this noise is being created only because some members want to raise the issue of Samjhauta case. We know that. Don't provide an alibi. I know they are your ally parties. Don't provide an alibi."
He said if members want to raise the issue of Samjhauta, they should be allowed. "Don't deflect the issue," he noted.
Congress demands removal of Jaitley's remarks
Jaitley's remarks led to vociferous protests by the Congress members who entered the Well, raising slogans and forcing a brief adjournment of the House till noon. When the House re-assembled for Question Hour, the Opposition members demanded expunction of Jaitley's remarks that adjournment notices were being "misused" for publicity.
As the opposition members remained adamant over their demand for removal of Jaitley's remarks from the records, Chairman Hamid Ansari adjourned the House for ten minutes.
The House was again adjourned for ten minutes as leaders of several parties discussed the impasse over the issue in the Chairman's chamber.
Ansari later said the records will be examined but no conclusion can be arrived at till this is done. "Let the Chair do its own work."
Azad said he respected the Leader of the House, who normally uses measured language and has never used words which hurt anyone.
"But to say that opposition leaders raise issues for TV channels is not acceptable. We raise issues of the have-nots, that include Dalits, oppressed, downtrodden and the poor and not for the television, which only covers the government," Azad said.
"I would request the Chair to remove the comment from the record. We never speak for television camera because most of the channels cover the ruling party. They have no freedom for the last three years," he said.
His colleague, Sharma said these words cannot be part of the proceedings. "The entire opposition is being castigated. We cannot allow this sweeping condemnation of the entire opposition."
Another Congress leader Kapil Sibal said, "I never expected the leader to denigrate the Opposition in such a fashion, to disrespect the discourse of the House."
(With PTI inputs)