The NDA government faced some uncomfortable moments during an all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday, when its own ally, Shiromani Akali Dal, said that minorities were feeling “uneasy and threatened”.
A number of issues, including remarks made by the PM on how “one family” was stalling Parliament and the crackdown on JNU students, came up during the meeting that was held to ensure the smooth conduct of the Budget session, starting February 23.
While the Congress and the Left raised the JNU issue and the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad to criticise the government, Ministers Arun Jaitley and Ram Vilas Paswan put up a strident defence. The Prime Minister adopted a tone of reconciliation, thanking all parties for raising “relevant issues”.
SAD’s Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral referred to the debate on intolerance to say that while the NDA was doing good work, conflicting signals had emerged from people “within the government” when it came to minorities.
Underlining that Sikhs were a minority community, Gujral said they, too, were feeling a sense of unease. He took a swipe at Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad after the Congress leader took exception to the PM’s veiled reference during a rally in Assam to the Gandhi family not allowing Parliament to function. Azad said five generations of the “family” had made sacrifices for the country and two of its members had been lost to bullets. To this, Gujral said the “family” should be ready to make “a little more sacrifice” and let Parliament function.
Azad also raised the “minority” issue by remarking sarcastically that earlier every Muslim was dubbed a “Pakistani”. “How come even Kanhaiya Kumar (JNU Students Union president), a Hindu, is being branded a Pakistani now?” Azad’s view was endorsed by CPM Lok Sabha MP Mohammad Salim.
Azad said several ministers and MPs belonging to the ruling party had made “anti-national” remarks, but no action had been taken against them. “Why blame the students (for doing so) then?” he said, adding, “after all, they learn from us”. Azad also referred to the suicide of Vemula at Hyderabad University.
Salim said his party wanted a discussion on the JNU row. At this stage, Jaitley stepped in, saying “many things will come out” if a discussion did take place.
BJD leader in the Lok Sabha Bhartruhari Mahtab made the point that “disruption has become a design for one group, which is not acceptable to us”.
A dysfunctional Parliament, he argued, provided scope for the government to act unilaterally without being accountable to people’s representatives.
The Opposition also raised the issue of Governors’ “interference” in governance by elected chief ministers and the political imbroglio in Arunachal where a breakaway faction of Congress, along with BJP MLAs, have staked claim for government formation.
In his remarks, Modi said that whatever happened in the country, it was the media that was the beneficiary. He also slammed social media users for their intemperate language.
The meeting, which lasted more than two hours, saw Congress and Left taking a similar line that Parliament was a reflection of society and in the present case, a reflection of the “mess” that the government had created.
The situation now, said CPI’s D Raja, was “scary”.
He urged the government to immediately withdraw the charges against the JNU students. The TRS, too, urged the government to “sort out” issues at JNU and Hyderabad University before the Budget session.
Modi ended the meeting by saying that all issues flagged by parties need to be discussed.
The PM also complimented President Pranab Mukherjee for his “guidance” in complicated issues such as the role of governors. In resolving the matter, the government would have to take a bipartisan approach, he said. He expressed the confidence that the session would run smoothly.
Trinamool Congress and AIADMK were among the handful of parties that made no mention of JNU. The TMC said it wants Parliament to “discuss, deliberate and legislate”.