On a day 19 Opposition MPs were suspended for the remainder of the week over alleged misconduct in the House, and also on a day the Enforcement Directorate called Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for questioning again on Wednesday, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, tells MANOJ C.G. how the Congress plans to take on the government on both issues — in and outside Parliament. Excerpts:
You spent almost the whole day at Kingsway camp police station. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has been called for questioning again tomorrow. What is going to be your strategy?
It is sheer harassment. They questioned Rahul Gandhi for five days. She (Sonia) was also questioned earlier. Now they have called her again tomorrow. She is a senior leader; 75 years old. They are not giving the respect that an elderly person like her deserves. Instead of sending a team to her residence to record her statement, they are calling her again and again as if it is a big murder case.
The Congress only gave financial assistance to a newspaper which had played a role in the freedom movement. She just wanted to keep that great institution alive. ‘Young Indian’ is a not-for-profit company that only runs the ‘National Herald’ paper. No one can draw a single rupee of profit, salary or dividend from it, or benefit from it in any manner.
They (government) know all that but they just want to harass and create an atmosphere of fear and demoralise (Congress) workers.
Nineteen opposition members were suspended today. Four Lok Sabha MPs were suspended yesterday. How do you see it?
It is a completely wrong decision…. They could have at least given a warning. You are adjourning the House so many times. Between adjournments, they could have called the floor leaders and told them, ‘what your members are doing is not right and I will have to take extreme action’.
Moreover, when it was in the Opposition, BJP used to stall proceedings of the House at the drop of a hat. Have they forgotten that? Late Arun Jaitley had said that Parliamentary obstruction is not undemocratic and it can be a legitimate tactic for the Opposition to expose the government.
How does the Opposition plan to take up the issue tomorrow?
I have called a meeting of all floor leaders tomorrow morning. I will request them to fight unitedly to demand revocation of suspension in both Houses. As far as the ED case is concerned, we will fight, making it our party’s agenda. But our main issue in the House will be forcing the government to hold discussions on price-rise and revocation of the suspension of the MPs.
Had they spent four hours [on discussions], five days would not have gone to waste. Our demand is a discussion under rule 267, suspending business. If they wanted, they could have taken up a discussion under some other rule…they could have fixed a date. It is clear they don’t want a discussion.
The government says it is ready for a discussion once Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recovers.
How many replies have the Prime Minister given to debates related to his department? And when ministers are out of station…we have seen other ministers, Ministers of State or [the] Parliamentary Affairs Minister replying to discussions on Bills. Are the other ministers not capable? The Leader of the House (Piyush Goyal) can reply. He is a jack of all trades (harfan maula)…
What about Opposition unity? The TMC has decided to abstain from voting in Vice Presidential elections.
What can be done? We tried our best. Many parties said the (Presidential) candidate should not be from Congress. The TRS said it first; TMC said we will find a candidate together. Mamata Banerjee called a meeting…we all went. When it came to Vice Presidential elections…Sharad Pawar was in touch with her (Mamata). We did not take the lead…. Jairam Ramesh spoke to Derek O’Brien..he was in constant touch. If there is no unity even in this, then it is very difficult.
We will keep trying. I have invited O’Brien for tomorrow’s meeting. A message has been sent to AAP, too.
Are you hopeful of all opposition parties attending the meeting and putting up a united face?
Our duty is to give a call to everyone. Let us see who will come and who will not. If they have got a different agenda, that is a different thing. My duty is to try to ensure that we all go together and fight unitedly. Numbers do not count…how you are raising the issues of people…and how they are acting against the opposition parties…that is important.
What decision are opposition parties expected to take tomorrow?
How can I presume? We are demanding revocation of the suspension of the members. What will happen in the House…nobody can say. We have to act according to the situation…. Whether we will sit on a dharna there…agitate…speak, if given a chance…all will be decided depending on how the situation develops.