House erupts after minister condemns Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on PM Modi
The incident took place during Question Hour, when the minister got up to reply to a question by Rahul Gandhi on the establishment of medical colleges in his constituency, Wayanad.Updated: Feb 08, 2020 01:58 IST
There were unruly scenes in the Lok Sabha on Friday as members of the treasury and Opposition benches nearly came to blows after Union health minister Harsh Vardhan condemned “outlandish” remarks made by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi about Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a public rally earlier this week.
The incident took place during Question Hour, when the minister got up to reply to a question by Gandhi on the establishment of medical colleges in his constituency, Wayanad.
After Gandhi mentioned his question number, Vardhan said that before giving the answer, he would like to make a statement on the Congress leader’s recent comment against the Prime Minister.
“Sir, please excuse me. Before I begin answering this question of dear Shri Rahul Gandhi ji, I want to condemn in no uncertain words the outlandish language that he has used against the Prime Minister of the country,” he said.
The statement -- he read out of a piece of paper, repeating Gandhi’s remark about how the youth of the country would “beat the PM with sticks” if they did not get jobs -- was unusual because parliamentary custom demands that ministers should stick to responding to a question asked by a Member of Parliament (MP) without comment or deviation.
As Vardhan continued to read out his statement, Speaker Om Birla asked him to reply to Gandhi’s question, and some Congress members rushed to the Well of the House. The Congress MP from Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu, B Manickam Tagore, headed to the treasury benches towards Vardhan, who was sitting in the second row.
At this point, a BJP member from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, held Tagore by his arm to stop him. Another Congress member, Hibi Eden from Ernakulam in Kerala, appeared to intervene.
Several senior members from both sides, including Union minister Smriti Irani, appeared to prevent the members from clashing.
As this fracas broke out, Vardhan said: “I don’t think in the worst of cases our party leaders have made such outlandish personal remarks against him threatening to beat him with dandas (sticks) and throwing him out of the country,” Vardhan said. “The entire House present here must in unequivocal terms condemn his remarks against our Prime Minister.”
The speaker controlled the situation and adjourned the House till 1pm.
At an election rally in Delhion Wednesday, Gandhi had said: “Narendra Modi is giving speeches, he will not be able to move out of his house in the next six months. The youth of India will beat him with sticks to make him understand that without employment, the country can never progress.”
On Thursday, the Prime Minister, while replying to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s speech in the Lok Sabha, took a dig at Gandhi for his remark, saying he would increase the number of ‘Surya Namaskars’ (a yoga exercise) so that his back can bear the attack.
When Gandhi got up to object, the Prime Minister added, without mentioning the Congress leader’s name: “I have been speaking for 30-40 minutes, but only now the current has reached there. Some tube lights work like that.”
While several BJP MPs demanded Tagore’s expulsion from the House over Friday’s incident, Gandhi, along with his party colleagues Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Suresh Kodikunnil, met Birla in his office to demand an apology from Vardhan, and to offer an assurance that Tagore will also express regret.
Later, when the House met at 2pm after another adjournment at 1pm, parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi condemned Tagore’s attempt to “attack” Vardhan.
“It is highly uncalled for. If anything is wrongly spoken then it is up to the Speaker to take a call but trying to attack the minister is condemnable,” Joshi said.
Tagore denied manhandling the minister. “When the minister started speaking in a derogatory manner, we were agitated and rushed to the well. We told the Speaker it should be stopped and that the minister must answer the question. That did not happen and, therefore, I rushed to the minister and told him ‘sir, please stop it’,” he told reporters outside Parliament.
Speaking to HT, Vardhan defended his action, and said that his reply happened by chance.
“I was outraged when I had heard Rahul Gandhi’s comment about PM Modi and I immediately tweeted, asking him to retract his statement and apologise. Today when I saw a question from Rahul Gandhi in the Lok Sabha, I immediately seized it as a chance to express my strong condemnation. I quickly scribbled some lines in between questions and read it out. It happened by chance, it was an unplanned, spontaneous response, I did it because I was livid about his behaviour,” Vardhan said.
Gandhi later contended that his party was being “stifled” and not allowed to speak in Parliament. “They have suppressed our voices... The BJP obviously does not like me to speak in the House. In a completely unparliamentary manner, the health minister raised something that I said outside, which he has no business of doing during the Question Hour,” he said.
Gandhi later tweeted that the ruckus in the Lok Sabha was “orchestrated” to prevent him from questioning the government. “The youth of India can clearly see that the PM has no clue about how to tackle the unemployment crisis. To protect him, the BJP will keep disrupting Parliament, preventing debate,” he added.
Constitutional expert PDT Achary said the procedure is that a minister should answer the question asked by a member. “If the Speaker thinks that the minister is not answering the question, he can ask the minister to reply to the question. That is the rule. If the minister does not listen or obey the Speaker, then whatever the minister has said should go out of the records because that is not the answer to the question,” he said.