Rahul protests in parliament, BJP hits back
A combative Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Wednesday led an unprecedented noisy protest in the Lok Sabha, demanding a discussion on communal violence and accusing Speaker Sumitra Mahajan of gagging opposition MPs.
For the first time since he became an MP in 2004, Gandhi walked towards the speaker's podium with fellow Congress members to join a small group of opposition MPs who were raising anti-government slogans there.
The action by the 44-year-old Gandhi, who usually keeps away from parliamentary debates and has been under attack since the Congress rout in the Lok Sabha polls, stunned most people. The BJP hit back.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley linked Gandhi's unusual aggression to attacks on him since the Congress defeat. Fellow BJP leader and minister M. Venkaiah Naidu asked the Congress to reconcile to its loss of power.
As soon as the house met, opposition parties led by the Congress demanded a debate, which the speaker disallowed, saying the parties can raise the matter during zero hour.
Some MPs, including RJD's Rajesh Ranjan, known as Pappu Yadav, his wife Ranjeeta Ranjan, Sushmita Deb of Congress and AAP's Bhagwant Mann, trooped near the speaker's podium and started to shout slogans.
At this time, Gandhi entered the house and stood on the aisle. Soon, he led Congress MPs to the podium and joined in the sloganeering. He was also seen talking to his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu denied that there was any communal tension in the country.
But as the protests continued, Mahajan adjourned the house briefly.
Talking to the media later, Gandhi accused the speaker of not allowing the opposition to speak.
"We are asking for a discussion but there is a mentality in the government that discussion is not acceptable," Gandhi said.
"There is a mood in parliament that only one man's voice counts for anything in this country and only one voice is being heard."
Congress leader M. Veerapa Moily told IANS that it was the first time that Gandhi had gone near the speaker's podium.
"This reflects his anguish against the ruling party's adamancy," he said.
Slamming Gandhi, Jaitley said: "A section of the leadership of the Congress, because of its inability to lead, has been under pressure...
"If you want to show yourself as doing something, it will be better if you lead your own party rather than develop a contrived aggression against the functioning of the house."
The speaker insisted she was following the rules and not ignoring the opposition.
But when the house met again, the opposition protests continued. Congress and other opposition parties raised slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government.
At one time, angry BJP members stood up to counter protest. Mahajan, however, told them to take their seats, saying she was capable of dealing with the situation.
She asked the leader of the Congress in the house, Mallikarjun Kharge, to speak.
Kharge said that rising incidents of communal violence in the country was affecting the life and security of people. He said the opposition was asked to raise the matter after the question hour.
Kharge's remarks that "riots were spreading everywhere" drew strong protests from the treasury benches.
Naidu refuted Kharge's allegation.
"They are frustrated. This is highly objectionable. There is peace in the country. There should be peace in the house. The country is safe and secure under the leadership of Narendra Modi," he said.
Naidu said the government was willing to discuss the issue but procedures had to be followed.
Amid the standoff, opposition members continued to raise slogans near the speaker's podium.
Gandhi, who left the house briefly, joined the protests and raised slogans against the government.
The slogans included "We want justice", "Hosh me aaoo" (Come to senses) and "Pradhan Mantri kahan gaye, bhag gaye, bhag gaye!" (Where is the prime minister? He has run away, run away). - IANS