A discussion in Parliament over the conflict in Gaza caused embarrassment for the government on Thursday with ministers taking different positions over the issue and Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari’s overrruling foreign minister Sushma Swaraj.
The escalating violence in Gaza – which has killed 230 people so far – has become a flashpoint between the government and the Opposition, with proceedings in the upper House washed out for the second consecutive day.
On Wednesday, Swaraj had objected to the discussion, saying that rules didn’t permit discourteous references to friendly nations, Israel and Palestine in this case. Swaraj had complained that she hadn’t been consulted about the debate and had found out about the issue only on Tuesday night.
Ansari, however, ruled in favour of the Opposition, pointing out that the list of business for upper House – which scheduled the discussion on Wednesday – had been made after consulting the government.
The debate had been scheduled after discussions with minister of state for parliamentary affairs Prakash Javadekar, said Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi.
By evening, the government agreed to Rajya Sabha debating the issue on Monday but it wasn’t clear if the Opposition – which wanted a discussion immediately -- would yield.
The Rajya Sabha chairman also said the leader of the house (Arun Jaitley) wrote to him on Wednesday asking him to not list the discussion for Thursday. “The subject having been already admitted, requires consultation with the leader of the house to fix the next date and time for discussion,” Ansari ruled.
Within hours of Ansari’s unfavourable ruling, deputy chairman PJ Kurien embarrassed the government further. “In my 10 years of experience in Rajya Sabha and 20 years in Lok Sabha, I did not see a single instance when the subject is listed and minister says she can’t come,” Kurien said.
Sources said Swaraj’s reluctance stemmed from the assistance India was getting from Israel – which has a good network in Iraq – to ensure the safety of the 39 abducted Indians.
Opposition parties have targeted the government over its “unwillingness to have a discussion on the issue, arguing that the executive couldn’t dictate the legislature. The government has also been charged of bending over backwards to please Israel and the United States.