Noisy scenes were witnessed in both Houses of Parliament Wednesday with the Opposition demanding the resignation of Minister of State for Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Anantkumar Hegde for his remarks that “people who call themselves secularists… are like people without parentage or who don’t know their bloodline”, and that the BJP has come to power to “change the Constitution”.
In Rajya Sabha, as soon as Hegde rose to lay papers listed against his name, several members, including Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, protested. Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu allowed Azad to speak but he was interrupted by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel. At this, Azad said: “Since the minister seems to be in a hurry, I will be brief. A minister who has no faith in the Constitution of India has no right to be an MP or a minister. He should resign.”
In Lok Sabha, the Opposition forced adjournment of proceedings twice with Congress members protesting in the well of the House, seeking the removal of Hegde. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that Hegde, with his remarks on the Constitution, had also denigrated its architect, Babasaheb Ambedkar.
On Sunday, speaking in Koppal district of Karnataka, Hegde had heaped scorn on “secularists”: “I don’t know what to call them. They are like people without parentage or who don’t know their bloodline… If someone says I am secular, I get suspicious… A few people say the Constitution mentions the word secular, so you have to agree. Because it’s there in the Constitution, we will respect it, but this will change in the near future… We are here and have come to change the Constitution. We will change it.”
In Rajya Sabha, Opposition members shouted “Babasaheb ka apmaan nahi chalega (insulting Babasaheb will not be permitted)”. In the din, BJP member Subramanian Swamy tried to make the point that the word secular was added to the Constitution at a later date and not by Ambedkar. Minister of State Ramdas Athawale got up and said it was not “this government” but “that one”, pointing towards the Opposition benches, which had “insulted” Babasaheb. Athawale, who switched loyalties from the UPA to NDA, said he decided to change allegiance because the UPA “never honoured” Ambedkar and “did not even give him a Bharat Ratna.”
When the House was adjourned, Venkaiah Naidu met Azad and Leader of House Arun Jaitley to resolve the impasse. After proceedings resumed, Goel made a statement on Hegde’s remarks: “I want to clarify that we have full confidence in the Constitution. We do not agree with the minister’s comments.”
Later, speaking to reporters outside the House, Azad demanded that Hegde tender an apology for his remarks or be sacked from the Council of Ministers. He said it was for the Prime Minister to take a call. In Lok Sabha, repeated appeals by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan failed to calm the Opposition and proceedings had to be adjourned twice even as the government said it was committed to the Constitution. “The member (Hegde) is not in the House. Nobody knows what he has said. The government has given a statement on this. Now, please don’t disrupt the proceedings,” Mahajan said as members from Congress trooped to the well, holding up banners and chanting slogans that Hegde be sacked. “There are many state elections coming up. But that does not mean you will bring in some issue or the other here to disrupt the House.”
In response to the Opposition charge, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar told Lok Sabha: “The government is committed to the Constitution envisioned by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. The government of Narendra Modi as well as the state governments run according to the Constitution. The Opposition is twisting and blowing out of proportion some comments made by Anantkumar Hegde.”