Parliament was back to confrontation and sloganeering between the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress Wednesday after the two seemed to have patched up and resolved to let the session progress peacefully. The Rajya Sabha plunged into turmoil after the government led by Finance Minister Arun Jatiley chose to counter a statement by senior Congress leader Kumari Selja on
Monday that she had been asked about her caste on a visit to the Lord Krishna temple in Dwarka in 2013, when she was a Union minister.
A comment by Power Minister Piyush Goyal angered the Congress, which stalled proceedings through the day demanding he withdraw the remarks and express regret. Many Opposition parties joined the Congress in demanding Goyal withdraw his remark — “This is another incident of manufactured problems and manufactured discrimination” — and tender an apology. The issue remained unresolved as the Congress made it clear it would accept nothing short of these demands. Chairman Hamid Ansari has convened a meeting Thursday morning.
Minutes after the House met, Jaitley rose to make a suo motu statement. Referring to the allegation Selja had made during the debate on commitment to the Constitution on Monday, Jaitley said, “I have now received an intimation through some people that, let alone not complaining, she had, on her visit, said very complimentary words in writing about the temple itself.” He read out what Selja had written in the visitors’ book of the temple and showed the page to members.
He said he wanted to dispel the impression that this sort of discrimination goes on in this country. “If such discrimination was faced by the member… when she visited the temple on February 22, 2013, she wrote this with her own hand and put her own signature. It says, ‘With Lord Krishna’s blessings, I had a very good darshan. The upkeep and the maintenance of the premises is excellent. May the Lord bless all and those who are fortunate enough to come here for his blessings’. She compliments the temple in writing, let alone complain against any kind of discrimination which took place there.”
Selja countered that she had made it clear Monday itself that the incident did not happen at the main Dwarka temple but at Bet Dwarka. She asked Jaitley not to “mislead the House”. “It doesn’t behove well if you are carrying it on like this one day after another… The Leader of the House and others should show some grace and not carry on like this in such an undignified manner that is totally lacking in grace,” she said.
Goyal intervened and said Selja should have objected to being asked about her caste then itself. “I think she is lowering the level of debate,” he said. “This is another incident of manufactured problems and manufactured discrimination.”
Angry Congress members trooped into the well. An exchange followed between the benches with Congress members chanting “Dalit mahila ka apmaan bandh karo” and “Samvidhan ka apmaan bandh karo”. This led to a series of disruptions with proceedings stalled till 3.30 pm. The slogans changed to “Narendra Modi maafi mango” and “Narendra Modi hai hai” in the afternoon.
Among members of other Opposition parties, the Trinamool Congress’s Derek O Brien said a provocative remark has come from the government side which is serious and the member should either withdraw or apologise. He said the statement is almost like calling Selja a liar in public. Goyal said he had not called her a liar.
The CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said the government had inflicted a self-goal. “It was a clear insult to the member,” he said.
A meeting of floor leaders called by deputy chairman P J Kurien during the post-lunch session could not break the stalemate. Selja too attended the meeting which lasted for nearly an hour. While the Congress insisted Goyal express regret, the government said he would merely make a statement withdrawing his comments.
The Congress, however, allowed a discussion on the flood situation in election-bound Tamil Nadu to take place at 3.30 pm.