Indian MPs on Wednesday vociferously demanded recall of the country's ambassador to the US Ronen Sen for his critical remarks against opponents of the India-US civilian nuclear agreement, with both houses of parliament being adjourned over the issue.
The Rajya Sabha was adjourned twice, while the Lok Sabha was adjourned once.
Although the government gave an assurance that there would be no compromise on "protecting the dignity of parliament", it was silent on the demand for Sen's recall.
"We want to know what action you are going to take against him," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deputy leader in the Lok Sabha VK Malhotra asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was present in the house.
Sen's "headless chicken" remark in an interview to Rediff India Abroad were taken as a disparaging allusion to MPs criticising the deal. The envoy says it was in reference to mediapersons "running around like headless chicken, looking for a comment here or a comment there..." on the nuclear deal.
He has apologised for the remarks, saying the "tactless" reference was to "some of my media friends" and not parliamentarians and that he had been misunderstood and quoted out of context.
As the Lok Sabha met at 11 am, BJP and Samajwadi Party MPs along with the Left members were on their feet, demanding Sen be recalled. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) sans the Shiv Sena then walked out of the house.
"There are deliberate attempts by members day in and day out to disrupt the proceedings. It seems they are not desirous of running the house," Chatterjee said before he adjourned the proceedings till 12 noon.
When the house reassembled, MPs from the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the Left repeated their demand for recalling Sen, even as Chatterjee called for papers to be tabled.
"Sen has castigated MPs who oppose the (nuclear) deal. This is outrageous," thundered Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Gurudas Dasgupta.
"Action should be taken against him (Sen)," said Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Prabhunath Singh said.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), a key ally of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), also demanded the ambassador's recall.
Kerala Congress-Joseph member PC Thomas contended that Sen was in the wrong even if his comments related only to mediapersons.
Chatterjee repeatedly sought to assuage the feelings of the agitated members.
"There is no question of any exoneration. Parliament is powerful enough to take action but we have to act according to procedures," he maintained.
Among those spoke were Roopchand Pal (CPI-M), Mohan Singh (Samajwadi Party) Anand Geethe (Shiv Sena), Brij Kishore Tripathy (Biju Janata Dal) and Devendra Prasad Yadav (RJD).
Responding to the MPs, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said: "No one had the right to cast aspersions on the media or on MPs."
He also brushed aside Sen's explanation about the remarks being part of an "off the record" conversation with Aziz Haniffa of Rediff India Abroad.
"No ambassador can make off the cuff remarks from the official chair," Dasmunsi said.
At the same time, he also took a swipe at the opposition.
"The house should be united when it comes to an issue that affects the prestige of MPs. But unfortunately, the opposition did not even bother to apologise when one of their leaders made a highly objectionable statement against our prime minister," the minister contended.
The reference was to NDA convenor George Fernandes' statement that had Manmohan Singh been in China, he would have been shot for negotiating the civil nuclear pact.
Sen's remarks led to protests in the Rajya Sabha too, forcing two adjournments.