The reference to demonetisation and surgical strikes by President Pranab Mukherjee in his address to the joint sitting of Parliament today was welcomed with loud thumping of desks by NDA members led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Opposition members looked unimpressed and did not thump the desks as Mukherjee referred to the government’s efforts to check black money or spoke of ‘garib kalyan yojna’ under which unaccounted money could be declared under a new taxation law.
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However, Opposition members joined the ruling coalition members in the applause when the President referred to ‘nari shakti’ and mentioned the performance of women atheletes at the Rio Olympics and induction of women fighter pilots by the Indian Air Force. Unlike on previous occasions, several benches in the Central Hall were empty. During the earlier Presidential addresses to the joint sitting of the two Houses, extra chairs used to be placed on the peripheries of the historic hall to accommodate the MPs, many of whom used to stand and listen to the speech.
But this time the attendance was quite low. Among those missing were Trinamool Congress MPs who had announced they would attend the proceedings only from February two. During the nearly hour-long speech, several members were seen clicking pictures from their mobile phones while Anand Sharma (Cong), Ram Gopal Yadav (SP), Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) were seen busy in an animated discussion for some time. The Prime Minister was seated next to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H D Deve Gowda were seated with BJP veteran L K Advani and Congress President Sonia Gandhi in the front row. As soon as the President’s address ended, Tiruchi Siva (DMK) was seen shouting about the suicides by farmers in Tamil Nadu. When Vice President Hamid Ansari was reading out the first and last paragraphs of the President’s address in Hindi, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav was seen leaving the hall. He continued to walk when the National Anthem started playing to mark the end of the programme.
When members were leaving the Central Hall after the departure of the President, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was seen talking to party leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs S S Ahluwalia.