The question of whether Parliament can convene while a former head of state’s body is lying in state, was resolved on Tuesday in an all-party meeting convened by Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari. The meeting decided in the negative, overruling in the process an earlier decision of the General Purposes Committee of the Upper House that there should not be an adjournment of more than a day for the death of any dignitary.
Earlier, soon after both Houses of Parliament adjourned on Tuesday morning after obituary references to former President A P J Abdul Kalam, there was confusion about the date of the next sitting of Parliament.
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While Ansari announced a day’s adjournment in the Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said the House would reconvene on July 30.
It was only a little later that the confusion was cleared when Ansari called the leaders of the all political parties to his chamber to seek their opinion about having the next meeting of the House on July 30 and not on July 29, as he had earlier announced. He told the members about concerns raised by Congress in the Lok Sabha that Parliament could not possibly be transacting business as usual while last rites of a former President were yet to be performed. He also told them about an earlier decision of a Rajya Sabha panel about the maximum period for which Upper House could stay adjourned in mourning.
In 1993, the General Purposes Committee of the Rajya Sabha had decided that adjournment of the House after the death of former heads of state, sitting or former MPs etc. would not be for more than a day. That rule is usually followed and was to have been adhered to also in the Lok Sabha. However, in the morning meeting with the Speaker, Congress’s Jyotiraditya Scindia pointed out the precedent for that rule being broken, insisting that an exception should also be made even this time. He added that it was not befitting for Parliament to meet with a former President’s body lying in state. Accordingly, Mahajan announced adjournment till July 30.
In the Rajya Sabha Chairman’s meeting, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu explained the position and asked leaders of all parties whether they were okay with a two-day adjournment.
After all parties agreed, it was decided to make necessary changes in the RS bulletin and inform individual MPs through text messages. “No decision of a committee is higher than the sense of the House. Since the House decided for a two-day adjournment we went with that decision,” an MP said.
Another MP, who attended the meeting, said: “There is a precedent for a two-day break. In 2005, when former President K R Narayanan — whom Kalam succeeded in the Rashtrapati Bhawan — died, a two-day recess was announced, the first day when Narayanan’s body lay in state in Delhi for people to pay their respects and the second for his cremation. That precedent was kept in mind while announcing a break of two days.”
Kalam’s body will be taken to his native village in Rameswaram where the last rites will be performed on Thursday at his family mosque. He will be buried at the same ground where his other family members are buried.