The Congress forced the government to put off the discussion on the Union Budget in the Lok Sabha on Friday, saying it can’t happen in the absence of finance minister Arun Jaitley who is currently on a tour of Britain.
The move left the government red-faced for the second time in 10 days after the Rajya Sabha — where the ruling NDA is in a minority — amended the motion of thanks to the President’s address.
The government had the rules and the numbers on its side in the Lok Sabha on Friday, but the Congress exercised the convention that a member of the largest opposition party initiates the discussion to its advantage.
Congress members trooped into the well of the House when junior finance minister Jayant Sinha started speaking on the Budget, objecting to the timing of Jaitley’s visit to the UK when Parliament is in session.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan dismissed the objections earlier in the day, ruling that she had accepted Jaitley’s request for leave. She said Jaitley would respond to the discussion on Monday.
But Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge dug his heels, insisting BJP floor managers had not informed them about Jaitley’s absence when their concurrence for starting the debate at noon was taken.
Kharge led the Congress’s charge with party president Sonia Gandhi by his side that starting the discussion in the senior minister’s absence would demean the prestige of the House.
The Speaker and the government cited the rulebook and precedents to contradict the Congress.
But CPM leader P Karunakaran and TMC’s Kalyan Bannerjee promptly rose in support of the Congress.
An adjournment and an hour-long argument later, parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu finally gave in, saying the Congress seemed to have made up their mind.