For first time, govt admits to ‘some amount of intolerance’

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Nov 30, 2015 23:29 IST
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu speaks in Lok Sabha during the winter session of Parliament in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)

The government on Monday conceded there was “some amount of intolerance” in the country even as the opposition turned on the heat in a fiery debate on the raging issue, potentially signaling the return of disruptions to Parliament.

The Lok Sabha was disrupted several times during the day after a Left lawmaker cited a news report to attribute a remark on the religion of the Prime Minister to Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who vehemently denied making the comment.

“I have never been hurt as much as I have been today in my entire parliamentary career. This is a huge allegation. He should prove it or apologise,” Singh said after CPI(M) MP Mohd Salim accused him of making the controversial statement to a news magazine.

Salim, however, admitted that the home minister was the first in the government to condemn the Dadri lynching incident.

After Salim refused to apologise, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan expunged his remark to facilitate resumption of the discussion.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is expected to intervene on Tuesday in the debate that remained inconclusive on Monday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been criticised for his silence over the alleged attempts to muzzle dissenting voices, was not present in the House during the heated exchanges.

Modi is in France to attend the global climate summit. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is also away in the US.

Late in the evening, the magazine, Outlook, admitted it had erroneously attributed a remark made by late Ashok Singhal of the VHP to Rajnath Singh.

“Outlook deeply regrets the lack of diligence in verifying the source of the statement,” the magazine said in a tweet.

Salim had refused to withdraw his remarks, wondering why the government hadn’t rebutted the report in the magazine. It was a point echoed by the Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy as well.

Salim, however, admitted that the home minister was the first in the government to condemn the Dadri lynching incident.

“A home minister who makes such a statement has no moral right to be the home minister,” Singh said in his spirited reply to the allegation. “I speak after weighing every word...People know Rajnath Singh can never make such a statement.”

In the Rajya Sabha – where MPs were participating in a discussion on the commitment to India’s Constitution – however, had a smooth run.

“There is some amount of intolerance in the society in different areas. It has to be localised and dealt with firmly. Instead of that, we are trying to generalise and then, in turn, it shows India in a poor light,” parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said, veering away from the government’s earlier assertions that the Centre could not be held responsible for stray incidents in states.

Naidu, however, stressed that the incidents of intolerance had not happened overnight and had been continuing.

Before the disruptions, Salim had mocked the government saying it is not its job to see what was cooking in the kitchen but to ensure that everyone has food to cook.

BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi responded by hitting out at the “so-called intellectuals” who had returned awards. “These were probably the rewards for political considerations and not the awards, which were genuinely sought,” she said.

The debate comes two days after Modi met Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh, setting aside a history of mutual bitterness amid signs that the government is reaching out to the opposition to avoid a repeat of the monsoon session washout.

Much is at stake in the month-long winter session as the government has lined up an ambitious list of bills led by the goods and services tax bill, a landmark tax reform initiative.

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