The Rajya Sabha proceedings were washed out on Friday amid ruckus as Congress members indulged in vociferous sloganeering through the day to protest the alleged abduction of their MLA by policemen in Gujarat and their BJP MPs charging them with defaming the state. The House witnessed repeated adjournments right from the word go, as noisy scenes over the issue disrupted the Question Hour, the Zero Hour and later the private members’ and official legislative business.
When the House met at 2.30 pm after four adjournments in the pre-lunch session, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi demanded that the Opposition should tender an apology to Gujarat for tarnishing its image. The Congress MPs were alleging that the Gujarat policemen had abducted its MLA in the state with a view to influence the upcoming elections to the Upper House.
“This morning during the Zero Hour and Question Hour, Leader of the Opposition (Ghulam Nabi Azad) and Anand Sharma had made objectionable statements to defame Gujarat. They said Gujarat which was earlier a safe haven for state encounters has witnessed kidnapping of an MLA for stealing of votes. The Leader of the Opposition, Chief Whip (in Gujarat) … have deserted the (Congress) party, MLAs are quitting…,” Naqvi said asking the opposition to apologise to Gujarat.
Asking the Congress members to indulge in “self introspection”, he said despite getting (politically) battered, the party has not realised the gravity (Inka band-baaja baj chuka hai, aur uske baad bhi inko ehsaas nahin hai). As BJP members were on their feet and raised slogans like ‘shame-shame’ to taunt the Congress, Naqvi said the people of Gujarat have been “deeply hurt by this conspiracy” and the Congress should apologise to them. He also claimed that the Gujarat elections will be held in a fair and free atmosphere.
The Congress members trooped into the Well raising slogans like “stop murder of democracy”. In a bid to run the House, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien asked the Congress members whether they wanted to apologise for “what you said in the morning”. However, he did not get any response from them. Kurien also asked the ruling party members to help in running the House.
Irked at not getting any response from either side, Kurien repeatedly warned that he would be forced to adjourn the House. “Both sides are not cooperating. Both sides are shouting. They are creating problems…I will have to adjourn the House. This is the time for Private Members’ business and if the members do not cooperate, I will be forced to adjourn.” “I am helpless,” the Deputy Chairman said before adjourning the House for the day.
Congress members had earlier repeatedly trooped into the Well raising anti-government slogans and charging the BJP with “stealing” MLAs to help its candidates win the Rajya Sabha polls, forcing brief adjournments one after the other. The House was adjourned twice during Zero Hour after it had assembled for the day and then twice again during the Question Hour till 2.30 PM. Soon after the House assembled, Kurien first adjourned the proceedings for 10 minutes as Congress leaders, including Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress’ deputy leader Anand Sharma, raised the issue and the party members stormed the Well raising slogans.
Similar scenes were witnessed when the House met again, forcing Kurien to adjourn the proceedings till noon. A repeat of the protests saw Chairman Hamid Ansari to adjourn the House for 15 minutes after it reassembled. As there was no let-up in the opposition protests, the House was again adjourned till 1430 hours, with Chairman Ansari saying the deputy chairman has said that matters relating to elections are dealt by the concerned agencies.
Raising the issue, Azad said three Congress MLAs who had resigned from the party and one of them was immediately named as the BJP candidate for the upcoming Rajya Sabha polls. He said Punabhai Gamit, MLA from reserved constituency of Vyara, after attending district Congress executive committee, had gone for a cup of tea to another MLA’s house when district superintendent of police “abducted” him. Azad alleged that the police officer told the MLA that Congress has decided not to give him a ticket for the upcoming assembly polls.
So he should leave the party and join the BJP and he would arrange his meeting with the BJP president and get him the ticket, he claimed. He said the police officer who had picked up the Congress MLA was the one who was arrested in a fake encounter case. The legislator managed to flee when he asked the police officer to allow him to get a changeover of clothes, he claimed. “You are stealing MLAs by using the police (to garner votes),” Azad said, adding “You should be ashamed.”
The charge was vehemently denied by Naqvi, saying “this is wrong. The Election Commission is conducting free and fair elections.” Earlier, Sharma had raised the issue through a point of order saying the Constitution was being violated by the ruling BJP which was using the police to “abduct” MLAs. “They are stealing MLAs,” he said, adding that it must be guaranteed that the biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha are free and fair and the “abducted” MLAs released.
Union Minister Parshottam Rupala also sought to counter the charge saying it was an internal matter of the Congress whose MLAs, including the leader of the party in the Gujarat assembly, were deserting it. “Why are you complaining here,” he said, adding “You are not taking care of your own house and are accusing us. Your own people are leaving you”. Naqvi said it is the Election Commission’s responsibility to hold free and fair elections. “If they have a complaint, they should go to Election Commission. Rajya Sabha is not the place to protest.” “You have to protect the Constitution … Voters are being kidnapped where do we go,” Azad said.
Kurien said the Chair has nothing to do with elections. “If what has been narrated has happened, solution lies elsewhere. You can approach police, you can approach election commission and seek remedy. I have no remedy for this.” He asked protesting members to return to their seats but his pleas went unheeded. “What is the use of obstructing,” he asked before adjourning the proceedings for 10 minutes.
When the House reassembled, Anand Sharma again raised the issue of abduction. To this, Kurein asked what could he do. Azad suggested that the Chair could give a direction to the Election Commission to ensure fair election. He said the officer involved in the incident should be removed. Kurien, however, said the Election Commission “does not require a direction from the Chair” to conduct free and fair election, as it is bound to do so and “they are doing it. … If you have a complaint, approach Election Commission.”
During the Question Hour, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) saidincidents like abduction of an MLA by a police officer was not acceptable and sought the Chair’s protection to save democracy. Naqvi also took pot-shots at the main opposition party, sarcastically saying they would now demand a direction to the Surpreme Court as several of their members were “involved in corruption” cases.