In a combative mood when she targeted the Prime Minister in her address to party MPs at 9.30 in the morning, Congress president Sonia Gandhi spent an eventful seven hours in Parliament Monday as she reached out to other opposition leaders for a boycott of Lok Sabha over the suspension of 25 Congress MPs, calling it a “black day for democracy”.
While nobody expected the Congress to climb down on the standoff in the House when the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) met in the morning, Gandhi set at rest any speculation when she mounted a blistering attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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She said “the champion of mann ki baat” appeared to have retreated into a “maun vrat” with “his deafening silence on the blatant transgressions by his External Affairs Minister and two of his chief ministers”.
She attacked the government for its “blatant insensitivity” to public opinion “manifested in its absolute silence on acts of monumental corruption, its wilful violations of the law and flagrant misdemeanors on the part of its leading lights”.
“The Prime Minister has been very free with his promises. Yet he seems totally incapable of delivering on them… he never misses an opportunity to claim the moral high ground on transparency, integrity and accountability.”
She said the Congress was being given “sermons on parliamentary behaviour” by the BJP which, while in opposition, “not only defended but also advocated disruption as a legitimate tactic”.
“Yesterday’s agitators in both the Houses have suddenly become today’s champions of debate and discussion. Memories are short and, therefore, we need to remind our political adversaries who are today conveniently suffering from selective amnesia. Has the BJP already forgotten that it is the author of the ‘resign-now-debate-later’ principle of parliamentary practice which it has used on at least five different occasions in the UPA decade?”
She recalled that on November 28, 2008 Modi attacked the then prime minister Manmohan Singh even as a counter-terror operation in Mumbai was underway. “And we are now being accused of not showing statesmanship? Let me make it clear that we are not being aggressive just to match the BJP’s aggression of the past. We have been forced to take our position because of the government’s completely brazen attitude,” she said.
“Our stand is clear and straightforward from day one: there is a mountain of incontrovertible evidence in the public domain for the Prime Minister to require the resignations of the External Affairs Minister and the two chief ministers,” she said.
Underlining that “parliamentary majority does not give anyone a licence to evade accountability”, she targeted Modi saying “the Prime Minister has turned out to be a master re-packager, a skilful salesman, a sharp headline-grabber and a clever news manager… the ‘take it or leave it’ approach of this government and its supreme leader goes against all democratic norms. Grandstanding, arrogant and hypocritical lectures will not work. It is the fundamental responsibility of the government to foster an atmosphere conducive to cooperation”.
After her address to the CPP, Gandhi moved to Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad’s room in Parliament, her first visit to his office. There, she spent over 40 minutes with Azad, her political secretary Ahmed Patel, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Anand Sharma, discussing the strategy for the all-party meeting.
When Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 25 of her party MPs, Gandhi did not leave the House after it was adjourned. With her MPs around her, she asked Trinamool members Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Kalyan Banerjee to back a Congress-led boycott of the House for the rest of the week. Kalyan Banerjee told her that they could not take a decision on their own and would have to consult party chief Mamata Banerjee.
Gandhi said she would wait. The Trinamool MPs spoke to their leader in Kolkata. All the while, Gandhi and party MPs were deciding the strategy for Tuesday. She spoke to P Karunakaran and P K Sreemathi Teacher, enlisting CPM support. The Trinamool leaders got back and told Gandhi that their party would back the Congress boycott of the House.
Meanwhile, many ideas were tossed around — from staging a dharna before Mahatma Gandhi’s statue to suspended MPs sitting on Parliament House doorsteps in protest. There was also a plan that the MPs stay the night in the House, but after many opposition parties promised support, the plan changed to a boycott of the House.
An audacious idea of suspended MPs trying to get in the House was also discussed with Rahul asking Sonia every now and then “Madam, how is this idea?”. At around 4.30 pm, she and other Congress MPs stepped out — an hour after the House was adjourned. And she announced that it was a “black day for India and democracy”.