Pressure mounted on Samajwadi Party MP Azam Khan to tender an unqualified apology for his objectionable remarks against senior BJP member Rama Devi in Lok Sabha on Thursday, as a meeting of leaders of different parties on Friday authorised Speaker Om Birla to take action if Khan fails to do so on the floor of the House.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said after the meeting: “The Speaker will ask Azam Khan to apologise over his comments made against Rama Devi without any condition. If he does not do so, the Speaker has been authorised to take action against him.”
Sources hinted that the Lok Sabha may pass a resolution authorising Birla to take “exemplary action” against Khan.
There was a general understanding among leaders of different parties that a message be sent across that the House has zero tolerance for acts and remarks that lower the dignity and honour of women.
Khan’s remarks were expunged from the records following an immediate uproar in the House on Thursday.
During zero hour on Friday, BJP member Sanghamitra Maurya raised a special mention on the “derogatory remarks made against the Chair” and said that Azam Khan should apologise to the House.
Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said this should not be treated as a woman’s issue alone, as Khan’s remarks are a blot on all legislators, including men. Referring to the couplet he had uttered, Irani said: “This is not a House where men come to gaze into the eyes of any woman. It is a privilege to speak in this House. If such disrespectful remarks were made against a woman outside, then she would have sought police protection, and even got it…. We cannot stay quiet and watch.”
Among women members who spoke out against the Rampur MP’s remarks were Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP MPs Anupriya Patel and Meenakshi Lekhi, TMC’s Mimi Chakraborty, Independent MP from Amravati Navaneet Kaur Rana, and NCP’s Supriya Sule.
DMK member Kanimozhi said this issue highlights the need to bring in the Women’s Reservation Bill. “Women continue to be insulted in this house of democracy. I urge the government to bring in the Women’s Reservation Bill, because having women in this House will add to the strength of women. We are with the government and will support the Bill when they bring it,” she said.
Requesting the Speaker to decide on an appropriate course of action on Khan’s remarks, AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi asked what had happened to the committee set up to probe sexual assault complaints against M J Akbar, a former Minister of State.
Several members backed Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab’s statement that the House empowers the Speaker to decide on an “exemplary action” in this case. Mahtab said, “This House must demonstrate that it can act judiciously. I leave it to you as to what action needs to be taken. But it is unpardonable.”
Other MPs who demanded action against Khan included Kalyan Banerjee (TMC), Rajeev Ranjan (JD-U), Nama Nageswar Rao and ministers Arjun Ram Meghwal, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Babul Supriyo and Anurag Thakur of the BJP.
Congress floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary said his party does not tolerate disrespect to women whether, either in the House or outside. As he said that in the past, Sonia Gandhi had been referred to as “Italy ki kathputli (puppet)”, BJP members shouted him down. Irani shot back, saying she has been the subject of such remarks repeatedly.
Sitharaman said politicising this issue is “outrageous” and indicated that the Opposition benches are being hesitant in their support, leading to an uproar in the Opposition benches this time.
Inputs from Pradeep Kaushal