The monsoon session of Parliament got off to a chaotic start Tuesday as the Rajya Sabha witnessed multiple adjournments with the opposition demanding the resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and chief ministers Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the controversies surrounding them.
In an equally combative mood, the BJP-led government tried to turn the tables by declaring it was ready to discuss the matter of Swaraj’s links to former IPL chief Lalit Modi.
The External Affairs Minister, on her part, told The Indian Express that she was ready with a statement on the issue.
“I am ready with a statement. I was ready even today to make a statement in the Rajya Sabha over the issue. I am looking forward to making it,” Swaraj said.
With the BJP ready with a strategy to counter the opposition attack and take the fight to the Congress camp, the government tried to take the wind out of the opposition sail. In the Rajya Sabha, after Congress deputy leader Anand Sharma spoke on the party notice to suspend all business to discuss the Lalit Modi controversy, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Rajya Sabha, said the issue concerning Swaraj could be discussed immediately.
Citing federal politics and precedents, the government maintained that matters linked to the chief ministers could not be discussed in Parliament. The BJP said if a discussion were to take place on its chief ministers, then charges against chief ministers of opposition-ruled states should also be allowed.
The opposition said a discussion could follow only after the resignations of Swaraj, Raje and Chouhan. BJP leader and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad hit back, describing this condition of the opposition a “Congress metamorphosis that started with the demand for a discussion to demand a resignation”.
After Rajya Sabha was adjourned repeatedly over the issue, Jaitley told reporters outside Parliament House: “We get a distinct and clear impression that the opposition wants disturbance for some time. They don’t want a discussion. The government is publicly declaring, as we have said so in the House, that we are ready for a discussion in any format, at any time.”
“Obviously state issues can’t be discussed. There has not been a single precedent in the history of Indian Parliament where state issues are discussed. That’s the part of federal politics of India. But as far as other issues are concerned, we offered that we are ready for a discussion and we are ready right now,” he said.
“We offered that Sushma Swaraj could reply to the discussion. Other Central ministers, if necessary, will also reply to the discussion. And in case they want her to make a statement, we can even start with her making a statement and the discussion could be structured around her statement. We left the option to the opposition which has not been accepted by them,” he said.
While arguing that the opposition’s reluctance to accept the offer for a debate indicated its “obstructionist” approach, the BJP has prepared its strategy for day two. The party, which held several rounds of meetings to discuss and prepare its spokespersons for the counter-offensive, has asked general secretary Kailash Vijayavargiya to coordinate with state units to collect all details of the charges against chief ministers in opposition-ruled states.
BJP sources said they have already asked their MPs to give notice under various rules to discuss charges of corruption or irregularities against chief ministers in Congress-ruled Kerala, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and TMC-ruled West Bengal.
As soon as the customary obituary references and felicitations were over, Anand Sharma raised the Lalit Modi issue, recapping the developments. He said it was a case of “misuse of office and gross impropriety” by Swaraj and Raje.
Sharma said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised transparency, honesty, action against corruption and fixing of accountability before coming to power. “It’s time to fix accountability. You have violated the dignity… The House will fix accountability. The Prime Minister has to answer, he cannot escape. He is silent, he seems to be on a maunvrat,” he said.
Declaring the government’s willingness to debate the issue, Jaitley said the discussion could start immediately. As the House witnessed repeated adjournments, Jaitley told CPM’s Sitaram Yechury that he did not have to make a case for initiating a discussion on the matter, because the government was ready.
At this,Yechury said: “The discussion cannot replace an investigation. The House is not an investigating agency.” He said his party was maintaining the stand it had taken when the Congress was on the treasury benches and accused of corruption — that there should be a high-level inquiry into the allegations pending which the ministers concerned should resign.
Jaitley claimed the opposition was “scared” of a debate and said Swaraj was ready to make a statement “within five minutes”.
There have been signs of disunity among opposition parties on the demand for Swaraj’s resignation but on day one, they closed ranks and stood as one.
When the House met in the afternoon, opposition parties, including the SP, demanded that Swaraj, Raje and Chouhan resign before a discussion takes place. Congress members rushed to the well of the House and disrupted proceedings while other opposition members looked on.
SP’s Naresh Aggarwal, among the members who had submitted a notice for a discussion, said: “I would like to speak but we need the resignations first.”
(With input from Abantika Ghosh)