Row over Rahul Gandhi’s walkout from House panel meeting escalates
A political row between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress escalated on Thursday over Rahul Gandhi’s walkout from a meeting of Parliament’s standing committee on defence in protest on Wednesday, with Union minister Prakash Javadekar saying Gandhi had insulted constitutional institutions even as the former Congress president wrote to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla to allow MPs to speak freely.
In his letter to Birla, Gandhi said he was “not allowed to speak freely” and sought the speaker’s intervention in protecting the rights of elected members, people familiar with the development said. Gandhi, according to a Congress leader, gave a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings and also the circumstances that prompted him and other party colleagues to walk out of the meeting.
Javadekar said Gandhi has remained mostly absent from the committee’s meetings in the past, and that the proceedings of the parliamentary panels are not for delivering speeches or staging political protests.
“He has attended only two out of the 14 meetings in the last one-and-a-half years and did not disclose his desired agenda for discussion as he was absent in the meeting to finalise the agenda,” he said in a media briefing.
“Rahul Gandhi remains absent and then blames the government and all procedures,” the minister added.
“He himself is not attending the meetings and conveying desired agenda, and then making imputation of not discussing important issues is an insult to all parliamentary procedures and constitutional institutions,” Javadekar said, pointing out that such meetings are meant to be confidential.
Gandhi, a Lok Sabha member from Wayanad in Kerala, said he was “repeatedly prevented” from speaking by panel chairman Jual Oram.
“It is the right of a member to point out digressions from the agenda and the purpose of the standing committee. The committee is free to disagree with what I say, but the fact that the chairman does not even permit a member to speak is a sad comment on how the government handles military affairs,” the Congress cited above leader quoted Gandhi as having said in the letter.
Gandhi urged the speaker to protect the rights of elected members to speak freely in parliamentary panel meetings and ensure that the discussions and presentations in the panel on defence are in consonance with its role and objectives.
Gandhi and two other members of his party – Rajeev Satav and Anumula Revanth Reddy – had walked out of the meeting on Wednesday, alleging that the panel’s time was being wasted in discussing armed forces’ uniform instead of the crucial issue of national security.
The Congress leader said that Gandhi also expressed surprise in the letter that the panel chose to discuss “uniforms in the current military situation”, and claimed that he had given in writing that discussion should be held on India’s strategy against China’s aggressive posture; response to China’s reusable autonomous armed drones; and the agreement on the purchase of Rafale aircraft, among other issues.