Usually quiet and reticent in Parliament, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday stormed the well of the House — the first time he has done this — with other Opposition MPs demanding a discussion on “rising incidents of communal violence in the country”. With Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan not complying, Rahul later questioned her impartiality as well.
Holding copies of The Indian Express’s investigation into the estimated 600 communal incidents in Uttar Pradesh since the Lok Sabha results and how these are clustered around 12 bypoll areas — the third part of the series runs below — Opposition members raised the issue before Question Hour.
Congress leader in the House Mallikarjun Kharge demanded a discussion on an adjournment motion. The Congress wanted the Question Hour to be suspended.
The Speaker, however, declined a discussion. The pitch of the protests then rose and Rahul rushed to the well of the House with other members.
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The group of MPs chanted slogans against the government, “We want justice”, “Achhe din kahaan gaye?” and “Pradhan Mantri kahaan gaye? Bhaag gaye, bhaag gaye.”
While Congress president Sonia Gandhi, chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kharge remained in their seats, Sonia was seen speaking to some members of the Trinamool Congress who were also briefly part of the protests but did not join the others in the well.
Speaking to reporters outside Parliament later, Rahul alleged that the Opposition was not being allowed to speak in the House. “We are asking for discussion. There is a mentality in the government that discussion is not acceptable. Everybody feels it, their party feels it, we feel it, everybody feels it,” he said.
“There is a mood in Parliament that only one man’s voice counts for anything in this country… We are raising a point, we are asking for discussion… The Speaker, I mean… It is completely one-sided, partiality. That’s what we are raising,” he said.
Rejecting his charges of bias, Mahajan later said equal opportunity is given to all members and parties. “If somebody has to level allegations, I cannot do anything. I am trying to do my work with integrity.”
In the House, the issue saw almost the entire Opposition benches unite as RJD’s Pappu Yadav and J P Yadav, SP’s Dharmendra Yadav and those from the Left, NCP and even the AAP got together. West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury led the Congress MPs as Rahul stood behind.
Saying that the Congress must give “a proper notice” to seek a discussion, the Speaker allowed Question Hour to go on amid the protests, although the questions and replies were barely audible. Mahajan also issued a warning to Pappu Yadav for his continuous agitation.
Mahajan later allowed Kharge to take up the issue during Zero Hour. In his speech, Kharge said that in the history of the House several matters of national importance affecting “peace and communal harmony of the country” had been taken up by suspending Question Hour.
“Madam, calling attention (notices) by MPs from the government side are being converted into discussion, but our adjournment motion cannot be converted to a discussion? This is partiality by the government,” he said. “Since this government has come to power, communal riots are spreading everywhere. Who is behind it? That has to be discussed,” he said.
Mahajan told Kharge to give specific examples and not talk about the “whole country in general”. At this, a few Congress MPs were seen showing copies of The Indian Express reports which have shown how in almost a quarter of the incidents, the spark has been lit because of a conflict over the use of loudspeakers.
Saying there was no communal tension in the country, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu said, “I condemn the allegations. The country is peaceful. Some people are unhappy because of that. We are ready for any discussion but it should be according to rule.” He said: “The country is safe and secure under the leadership of Narendra Modi.”