An angry Opposition forced BJP member Sakshi Maharaj to express regret in Lok Sabha Friday and withdraw his remarks describing Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, as a patriot. The Unnao MP is the second from the BJP who has had to apologise in the House this month for highly offensive, communal remarks — Minister of State Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti had to say sorry for her Ramzaadon-versus-haramzaadon remarks.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who had taken her seat in Lok Sabha well before proceedings began, directed party members as they entered the well, shouting slogans. At one stage, she stood up and joined the chorus. She even walked up to party member Sushmita Dev, who was in the well, and whispered in her ear. Dev, in turn, conveyed her message to Jyotiraditya Scindia who had taken the lead in slogan-shouting. Gandhi also had a word with Trinamool leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay. Scindia rushed back and forth to take instructions from her.
These chaotic scenes were witnessed by a parliamentary delegation from Pakistan, seated in the Speaker’s gallery.
Members belonging to eight parties — Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPM, Samajwadi Party, RJD, AAP, NCP and the AIMIM — moved into the aisles soon after Speaker Sumitra Mahajan made a reference to the December 13, 2001 terror attack on Parliament. They demanded suspension of question hour to take up their adjournment motion on Sakshi Maharaj’s remarks, but Mahajan said she had rejected their notices. She said they could raise the matter later during zero hour. As she took up question hour, Opposition members trooped into the well and shouted slogans.
Scindia and Pappu Yadav (RJD) took the lead. Those in the well included K C Venugopal, Anto Antony, Deepender Singh Hooda, Adheer Ranjan Chowdhury, Ravneet Singh Bittu and Ranjit Ranjan (all Congress), Dimple Yadav and Tej Pratap Singh Yadav (both SP), P Karunakaran, M B Rajesh (CPI-M), Saugata Roy, Uma Soren, Satabdi Roy, Aparupa Poddar, Mumtaz Sanghmitra, Tapas Pal, Prasun Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Bhagwant Mann (AAP) and Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM).
They had a new slogan: “Hey Ram, hey Ram, Gandhi ke katil ko diya samman (Hey Ram, the killer of Gandhi has been honoured)”. In between, they would switch to “Doshi sarkar hai hai (down with the guilty government)”. The din continued during questions and answers. The Speaker then adjourned the House for 10 minutes.
After proceedings resumed at 11.25 am, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu made a submission: “Nobody in this country can accept enticing the people or the person responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The Government totally condemns such a statement. That has been conveyed and the honourable member has clarified it outside the House too. He has also expressed regret.”
“As far as the Government is concerned and as far as my party is concerned, we do not agree with that proposition at all,” Naidu said. When Congress members said they were not satisfied with his reply, Naidu back saying there are people “who are killing the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi everyday”. He said the Opposition had no issue and was not allowing the House to run.
It also prompted the Speaker to say that from tomorrow, she would set aside time for apologies. Prodded by Naidu, Sakshi Maharaj rose from his seat and said: “I withdraw my remarks… But my friends have no issue… Godse killed Gandhi long back but you killed the Mahatma’s ideology in 1984 during the anti-Sikh riots”. This infuriated Congress members who returned to the well.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the Opposition would not allow the Government to have its way just because it had a majority. Demanding an “unconditional apology” from Sakshi Maharaj, he promised not to let the House function if anybody “insulted” Mahatma Gandhi and honoured his assassin. Naidu argued that the member had already withdrawn his remarks. He said the Government and the BJP condemned such statements.
As the din continued, the Speaker too prodded Sakshi Maharaj to tender an apology. This time, he was brief and direct: “I withdraw my words… I express regret before the House and the country.