Forty-five minutes into his Budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley paused and asked Speaker Sumitra Mahajan if he could take a break for five minutes. As he slumped into his seat, ministers and MPs milled around him, some calling out for water.
From a corner seat in a gallery above, Sangeeta Jaitley watched quietly, concern wrinkling her brow as her husband disappeared from view. The huddle around him was now larger since Opposition MPs too had crossed over to inquire. Sitting next to her, daughter Sonali craned her neck to peer below.
“For a while I was concerned. I could make out he was in discomfort. But when I saw him clutching his back, I knew it was a spasm attack,” Sangeeta Jaitley said later as she emerged from the House.
Jaitley resumed his speech at 11:50 am after being allowed by the Speaker to remain seated while speaking. Helped by regular sips of water, he spoke for another 85 minutes.
Barring the five-minute adjournment, proceedings in the Lok Sabha were fairly smooth, even uneventful insofar as Budget Day speeches go. The Congress, down to 44 members, was unusually quiet. Flanked by Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi sat taking notes. Five rows behind, Shashi Tharoor did the same.
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Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress interrupted Jaitley at regular intervals, only to be shouted down by members of the NDA — the 330-plus alliance is now spread across much of the horse-shoe shaped chamber.
Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti and Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur sat together and were among the most animated, thumping the desk to greet every new announcement. Bharti raised a cheer when Jaitley said an outlay of over Rs 2,000 crore was being proposed for an integrated programme on Ganga conservation.
The one announcement that had everyone applauding was the decision to construct a war memorial and museum at Princess Park near India Gate. Jaitley also announced the construction of a national police memorial.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan nodded his head in approval when increase in excise duty on tobacco, cigarettes, pan masala, gutka and aerated drinks was announced. While Jaitley called these “healthy measures” and most applauded in agreement, there were a few groans from both sides of the divide.