The second part of the Budget Session of Parliament has seen a total lack of business, marked by a bitter stand-off between the Treasury benches and an Opposition that threatens to snowball into a bigger controversy when the Houses return for work after the weekend.
The issue centres on Rahul Gandhi, MP and senior leader of the Congress, whose visit to Britain triggered a huge storm back home, given his statements on democracy being under duress and deep threat in India, about the lack of freedom of expression and how the major democracies of the world should protect it.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which was still gauging the possible impact of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, found a great opportunity to corner the Grand Old Party and called it an affront that Mr Gandhi was critical of the government while on an overseas trip. Even those who support Rahul Gandhi or the Congress are upset, and perhaps rightly; while one may well criticise one’s own government and society, it should not be done abroad. The BJP is now keenly demanding that Rahul Gandhi apologise for his remarks made in England before he is allowed to speak in Parliament.
Rahul Gandhi, once he returned to India and came to Parliament, rightly pointed out that he was criticised severely by at least four ministers of the BJP on the floors of the two Houses, and since he was named in person, as per parliamentary protocol and etiquette, he should be allowed to respond to the criticism and defend himself and his party.
Generally, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha would have had no issues in seeing the merit of the demand and would have straightaway granted permission, but these are not normal times. No institution is beyond partisanship. Mr Gandhi then spoke to the media, detailing his request to the Speaker and how it was not positively responded to so far.
The BJP, viscerally unwilling to deal with any issue on the backfoot, has now stated its intent to institute a probe into Rahul Gandhi’s remarks abroad and might even try to get him disqualified from Parliament.
Not to be left behind, the Congress has also tried to pay the BJP back in its own coin, with its MP K.C. Venugopal moving the Rajya Sabha with a notice for a breach of privilege against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mr Modi had earlier baited the first family of the Congress on the floor of the House asking why its members do not use the surname of Nehru. The Congress described the statement to be “derogatory, insulting, distasteful and defamatory”.
It is clear that neither of these moves, neither the notice of Mr Venugopal to Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar against Mr Modi under Rule 188 of the Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Upper House, nor the move by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey seeking the constitution of a special parliamentary committee to inquire into Rahul Gandhi’s “contemptuous” remarks, will have any productive outcome or a logical conclusion.
Both the parties must reflect calmly during the weekend and a thaw must be arrived at — the ruling party must let Rahul Gandhi speak in Parliament, as is his right, and if he is wrong, the people of India will rightfully judge him at the right time. But let no more parliamentary time be wasted on these matters.