In an escalation of confrontation, the BJP on Tuesday decided to boycott meetings to be convened by the parliamentary affairs minister and the Lok Sabha speaker as it accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of not allowing the opposition to air their views in Parliament.
The BJP decision, announced by leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, was ridiculed by Congress as just an excuse to disrupt Parliament.
The escalation comes at a time when the BJP has been stalling Parliament for the last seven days by demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and law minister Ashwani Kumar over the coal blocks allocation issue.
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Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of not allowing the opposition to air their views in Parliament and said there is a “situation of total breakdown” in the ties for which the government is “responsible”.
Forced to cut short her speech in Lok Sabha due to interruptions when the finance bill was being taken up this morning, Swaraj said she could not speak because Gandhi “instigated” ministers to create disturbances.
Addressing a press conference, she said speaker Meira Kumar did not give her “protection” by allowing enough time or checking the ruling party members from creating disturbances.
Swaraj, while speaking in Lok Sabha on why BJP is demanding the prime minister’s resignation and stalling the House on the coal issue, described the UPA government as the “most corrupt”, triggering an uproar.
She said as a protest against such behaviour, the BJP will not attend any meetings called by the speaker or participate in any talks held by the parliamentary affairs minister.
This stand will continue till there is any improvement in the situation, she said.
At the same time, she said the BJP will will not move a no-confidence motion against the government.
Swaraj said the decision was taken at the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) that she would speak on the issue of coal blocks allocation and BJP would allow passage of the Finance Bill on Tuesday to prevent it from lapsing.
“Whatever is decided in BAC is not implemented, but whatever Sonia Gandhi decides takes place,” she said.
“I had just started my speech when the Congress president became active and gestured to the UPA ministers. She instigated them and the ministers started interrupting me. At this point I thought the Chair would give me protection and tell the ministers to stop but the speaker only kept telling me to wind my speech up,” the BJP leader said.
“I am making this allegation with full responsibility that the Congress president and UPA chairperson has no respect for the Indian democratic process,” said Swaraj, who has an old political rivalry with Gandhi. The two leaders had contested against each other in a Lok Sabha by-election in Bellary.
Replying to questions, she said “the countdown for this government has begun”.
“The Congress has been breaking all constitutional institutions under her (Gandhi’s) leadership. They rundown the CAG, create a ruckus in PAC, indulge in partisan behaviour in JPC, put pressure on the CBI, mislead the Supreme Court and do not let the opposition speak,” Swaraj alleged.
The BJP leader further charged that Gandhi had been instigating her party MPs on different occasions in the past as well, but on Tuesday the situation crossed all limits.
Hitting back at Swaraj, Chowdhary said “Democracy does not function in this manner. If you are looking for excuses to disrupt Parliament, you should find out some other excuses.”
Rejecting Swaraj’s allegations against Gandhi as “completely untrue”, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said it was an “excuse to disrupt Parliament”.
Chowdhury recalled that it was the same Swaraj who had threatened to have her head shaved if Sonia Gandhi became prime minister in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress spokesperson said that if Swaraj does not want the meetings called by even Meira Kumar, this amounts to casting aspersions on the honourable speaker.
“If she has decided to boycott the meetings of speaker, then it’s an individual choice that she has made,” she said.
Questioning how the BJP leader could know what Gandhi told the ministers, Chowdhary said it was “very unfortunate” that the “unfair”, “completely untrue” and “uncharitable” allegation was levelled by a senior leader like Swaraj, whom Congress holds in “high esteem”.
“And we cannot forget the history of such prejudices in the past. Should we remind them that it was the Sushma Swaraj, who had in past said that she would get her head shaved if Gandhi became prime minister?” Chowdhary said.
Swaraj maintained that BJP wanted to cooperate with the government as a responsible opposition and help it pass the money bills. “We are not stalling Parliament for personal reasons,” she said.
The opposition maintained that the ball is now in the court of the government and the Lok Sabha speaker.
BJP ruled out support to any legislative business in this session of Parliament which gets over on May 10. “If there will be no talks (with the speaker or parliamentary affairs minister) then where does the question of supporting the Food Security Bill or the Land Acquisition Bill arise?” she asked.
Referring to the Supreme Court’s observations on Tuesday on the reported vetting of the CBI report on coal issue, Swaraj said, “The court has said this was a massive breach of trust. I don’t think any government has had to face such remarks.”