Shifting uneasily in their seats, BJP ministers and MPs watched silently as the opposition, waving copies of The Indian Express report on Shiv Sena MPs allegedly forcing a fasting Muslim to eat a chapati, tore into their NDA partner on Wednesday and urged Lok Sabha to condemn the “outrage… cutting at the very roots of secularism”.
The discomfiture in the treasury benches was apparent. A key ally had opened the door, given the small opposition its first chance to push the 330-plus ruling combine to the wall. And for once, members of the Congress, Trinamool Congress, RJD, PDP, AIMIM, NCP and Left, who together number a little over 100, joined hands to ring the government.
The AIADMK, which wanted to press ahead with the issue of the appointment of a controversial Tamil Nadu judge during UPA rule, looked on.
M I Shanavas, Congress MP from Wayanad, raised the matter the moment Zero Hour began — he was not allowed to do it during Question Hour. Calling the Maharashtra Sadan incident “shocking”, he said: “This is cutting at the very roots of secularism. Never in independent India has such a thing happened. The MPs who are to be role models have shown a bad model… that they can do anything.”
When he began reading the complaint of the man who alleged he had been forced to eat, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu turned to the Speaker: “Madam, this should not go on record. Nobody knows the truth. He is trying to sensationalise the issue unnecessarily. Let us not rouse communal passions.”
When Sena leader Anant Geete led his party’s counter-attack and told the opposition not to make “false statements… if you respect the holy month of Ramzan”, one from the BJP ranks decided to take matters in his own hands, causing greater embarrassment to his party.
Making some very objectionable remarks, Ramesh Bidhuri, BJP MP from South Delhi, sprinted towards the well. Shouting gave way to gasps and some members rushed to drag him away from RJD’s Rajesh Ranjan (better known as Pappu Yadav) and AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi who decided to meet him in the well. By then Sena MPs had also moved down the aisle.
In the front row of the treasury benches, discomfiture had morphed into disbelief. Lal Krishna Advani — he later told reporters that the Maharashtra Sadan incident was “wrong” — looked very vexed, Sushma Swaraj very cross, and the others behind thumped their heads. Swaraj turned to Harsh Vardhan who walked up to Bidhuri to tell him to stay put.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had left the House earlier during Question Hour.
In the din, Geete continued: “This is now being raised by the Congress to malign the Narendra Modi government.”
Seventeen minutes into Zero Hour, and no one paying attention to her pleas to return to their seats, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan adjourned the House.
When it re-assembled at 12.30 pm, Venkaiah Naidu said: “I want to tell ruling party members that whatever has to be done will be done by the government or leaders… I do not approve the conduct of one of my members. The member is going to apologise to the House… This is a very sensitive issue. Whether the incident (at Maharashtra Sadan) happened or not, we do not know.”
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge asked the Speaker to take action against Bidhuri and refer the matter to the ethics committee “so that no member makes such remarks or shows muscle power” in the House.
The Speaker turned to Bidhuri who said “keeping in mind the dignity of the House, I wish to say I did not target any one individual or community. But if the House and members feel otherwise, I regret…”
This led to more protests and Bidhuri rose again. This time he apologised. Not satisfied, the Congress, RJD, Left, NCP, PDP and AIMIM later staged a walkout.