July 20, 2021 4:01:28 am
Parliament’s Monsoon Session got off to a stormy start Monday as the Opposition, protesting over several issues including farm laws and fuel price hike, prevented Prime Minister Narendra Modi from introducing his newly inducted Union ministers, a customary practice. The Opposition did not budge even as the PM tried to put it on the mat by citing the social combination of his new ministers.
When the Treasury benches accused the Opposition, especially the Congress, of violating convention by not allowing Modi to continue, the Congress countered that the BJP had done the same in 2004 when PM Manmohan Singh was trying to introduce his ministers. The ruckus ensured that the Lok Sabha had to be adjourned multiple times before ending the day without transacting any major business.
Just before the session began, in his interaction with Opposition leaders, the PM invited them to ask “hard” questions, saying a peaceful atmosphere would help the government answer all of them. However, the battle lines were drawn from the moment go and, as soon as the PM began his address in the Lok Sabha, Congress MPs started shouting slogans and held up placards against rising fuel prices, refusing to sit despite repeated requests by Speaker Om Birla.
Modi lashed out, saying the Opposition was protesting as they could not digest the fact that he had included women, Dalits, tribals, backwards and “sons of farmers” into his Cabinet. He said that instead of a hue and cry, he had expected the House to honour the new ministers with applause. “But it seems that Dalits, women… OBCs of the country becoming ministers does not go down well with many people sitting here in Parliament.”
A rocky start
The ruckus in Parliament Monday dashes the government’s hopes of a productive session. Leading up to the session, the government had opened several lines of communication with the Opposition, hoping for a more peaceful run than earlier sessions.
Expressing his disappointment over the Opposition protests, Birla asked Modi to table his statement.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh slammed the Congress for “breaking tradition”. “Healthy traditions have been set by following conventions in Parliament. In my last 24 years of parliamentary life, I have not seen a single instance where the PM could not introduce his Council of Ministers even if it was one person,” Singh said in the Lok Sabha.
While Akali Dal MPs joined the parties opposing the farm laws, Trinamool, DMK and Samajwadi Party members joined the Congress in the well of the House.
In the Rajya Sabha too, Opposition members raised slogans and entered the well, forcing repeated adjournments. The new Leader of the House and Union minister Piyush Goyal condemned the behaviour, saying the Opposition had broken a tradition over introduction of new ministers that has been in place since first PM Jawaharlal Nehru.
Speaking to Opposition members before the proceedings began, the PM urged them to raise hard questions but in a peaceful atmosphere, saying this would allow the government to respond to the queries of leaders as well as people on the Covid situation. “I would like to urge all the MPs and all the parties to ask the most difficult and sharpest questions in the Houses but they should also allow the government to respond, in a disciplined environment. This will boost democracy, strengthen people’s trust and improve the pace of development,” he said.
Modi said effective debates with priority to the Covid situation would help every MP contribute to the battle against the virus. “Let this Parliament session be result-oriented with effective debates and give people the answers sought by them. The government is ready with the answers,” he said.
Calling those who have got Covid vaccinations ‘Bahubalis (literally meaning strong-armed)’, he said, “That’s the only way to fight corona. Already 40 crore people have become bahubalis. It will continue at the same pace.”
The Congress counter to the BJP’s accusation over it “breaking convention” was a reference to the pandemonium in the House in 2004, when Manmohan Singh was introducing ministers in his first Cabinet. The BJP had protested, alleging “criminal background” of one of the ministers. On August 30, 2013, speaking in the Rajya Sabha, Singh had talked about this, saying, “Have you ever heard of a situation in a Parliamentary system where the Prime Minister of the country is not allowed to introduce the members of the Council of Ministers?… That’s what happened in 2004.”
About the only business that happened in the Lok Sabha Monday was the swearing-in of four new MPs — the YSRCP’s Maddila Gurumoorthy, the BJP’s Mangal Suresh Angadi, the IUML’s Abdussamad Samadan and the Congress’s Vijayakumar alias Vijay Vasanth. The Opposition MPs also heeded the Speaker’s request and went back to their seats to allow him to take up obituary references to 40 former MPs who died during the inter-session period.
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