Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s criticism of the UPA during his recent visit to Germany and Canada rocked the Rajya Sabha Tuesday with the opposition accusing him of lowering the dignity of the country. The government responded that the Prime Minister is “perfectly entitled to say what happened” and that “there is no gag order” on him.
While the Congress was the prime target of the Prime Minister’s attack in Canada, the party got the support of the JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, the SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav, the CPM’s Tapan Sen, the BSP’s Mayawati and the Trinamool Congress’s Sukhendu Sekhar Roy. Sources said deputy leader Anand Sharma had reached out to these parties.
Raising the issue during zero hour, Sharma demanded that the business of the House be suspended and a discussion held on the PM’s remark that the country was known as “Scam India” earlier, an image that he vowed to change to “Skill India”, and his promise to clean up the mess left behind by the earlier government.
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Sharma said the PM departed from the convention of not discussing domestic politics abroad. “The Prime Minister has lowered the dignity of his office,” Sharma said, amid exchanges between opposition and BJP members. “He has no dignity for the country. He is not speaking like the Prime Minister, he is speaking like a leader of the BJP and pracharak.”
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu argued the PM’s speech cannot be discussed in the House and he cannot be defamed in this fashion. “There is no question of defaming the PM, but when the country is being defamed it is the prerogative of the members to discuss the issue,” Roy said. “It is the issue of defamation of the entire country,” Sen echoed.
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien rejected Sharma’s notice under Rule 267 for suspension of business. The Congress disrupted the proceedings with slogans, resulting in three adjournments.
For the government, Arun Jaitley defended the Prime Minister. “There is no gag order and the Prime Minister of India is perfectly entitled to say that what happened in the last 60 years, we will break away from that and present an honest government to the people of India,” he said.
“Anand Sharma and others must realise that in today’s technology, whether you discuss a scam inside the House or in India or in Berlin, the Internet will take it everywhere in the world. The satellite will take it everywhere. Even if it is discussed here, people all over the world can see it. So, don’t be touchy about the fact that you can discuss it here but not discuss it outside,” Jaitley said.
He said he could understand the Congress being “very upset with the idea of cleaning up” and reminded Sharad Yadav that socialist leaders had gone abroad during Emergency and attacked the government. “You belong to that socialist stream.”
In the second half, the opposition raised this point. Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “There was a mention by the leader of the House targeting Mr Sharad Yadav and Leftists that ‘in your time you also did something against the government or against the previous prime ministers’. The question is, they are in opposition, they were in opposition. We have never stopped them as long as they are speaking within Indian territory. We were only saying that no less a person than the Prime Minister was saying this from foreign soil. But the most unfortunate thing is that the leader of the House who is very educated, very respected — we all respect him — targeted them,” Azad said.
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