A day after former Cabinet ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government attacked the government over the cost of the Rafale deal, Congress MPs on Thursday demanded a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) into the purchase. The Congress is planning to raise the issue in a big way on Friday, and sources said it would boycott a breakfast to be hosted by Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu.
The Congress has conveyed to Naidu its decision to boycott the breakfast, which is to felicitate newly elected Deputy Chairman Harivansh. Sources said the Congress MPs would hold a dharna in front of the Gandhi statue.
The Congress members created a din in the Lok Sabha to press its demand for a JPC, forcing Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to adjourn proceedings. In the Rajya Sabha, Congress members trooped into the well and created an uproar. They shouted slogans for one-and-a-half hours — at one point they sat down in the well — but Chairman Naidu continued with the proceedings and even got two Bills passed.
Congress floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge flagged the issue as soon as zero hour got under way. As the Speaker continued with the listed business, Congress members came to the well waving placards and raising slogans, vociferously seeking a JPC probe and a reply from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Speaker adjourned the House for 20 minutes till 1 pm. When the House met afresh, the protests continued and Mahajan adjourned it again, this time till 2 pm.
Shortly after the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha around 3.45 pm, Congress leader Anand Sharma raised the demand for a JPC probe into the Rafale deal. But the government wanted to carry on with the business, as Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore tabled The National Sports University Bill to be considered for passing. As Sharma insisted on the JPC probe, he was supported by fellow Congress MPs and some CPM members. Naidu also did not relent and continued with the proceedings. But the Congress MPs trooped into the well and shouted slogans, “Rafale ki dalali band karo”, “Narendra Modi sadan mein aao”.
The Opposition’s attack on the government over the cost of 36 Rafale jets that India has agreed to buy had found support from new quarters on Wednesday. Former cabinet ministers in the Vajpayee government, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, along with Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, alleged that the BJP-led government had agreed to buy the 36 aircraft with no additional add-ons and yet would pay Rs 1,000 crore more per plane as compared to the earlier deal.
As Congress MPs, and some CPM members, kept shouting slogans, Naidu kept calling members to speak on the Bill. Apart from BJP, members from AIADMK, SP, TMC, JDU, TRS, YSR Congress, AAP spoke on it. While some are part of the BJP-led NDA government, parties like TMC, SP and AAP – which oppose the BJP in the Centre and state – chose to speak on the Bill, and did not side with Congress on the Rafale issue.
After about 50 minutes of discussion on the Bill amid the din, the Upper House passed the Bill at 4.40 pm to establish a National Sports University in Manipur. The Bill, which was passed by voice vote in the Upper House, was adopted by the Lok Sabha on August 3.
As the Bill was passed, Sharma was furious, and BSP’s Neeraj Shekhar also appeared angry at the proceedings. They shouted slogans of “shame” directed at the chair.
Naidu kept urging the members to continue the discussions, saying nothing would go on record. But Congress and Left members stood their ground.
Then Naidu called for the next Bill — The Homeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill. Congress MPs sat down in the well around 4.45 pm and shouted slogans while speakers from different parties articulated their views. “Desh ka chowkidar kahan gaya”, “desh ka suraksha bechna band karo” were some of the slogans by Congress MPs, even as MPs from BJP, TMC, JDU, SP, AAP and YSR Congress spoke on the Bill. Again, parties like SP, AAP and TMC continued to speak, though Congress was protesting.
The Bill was passed amid noisy protests around 5.15 pm before the Upper House was adjourned. The Bill will replace the Central Council of Homoeopathy with a board of governors and aims to bring accountability and quality in homeopathy education.