Dramatic discussion in LS over Rafale amid ruckus, counter-charges

Dramatic discussion in LS over Rafale amid ruckus, counter-charges


New Delhi, (IANS): It was a significant day in Lok Sabha on January 2 with the ruling and opposition members holding heated post-lunch debate on procurement of Rafale fighter jets amid ruckus and counter allegations. The debate, however, could not be completed amid pandemonium, but the government till then had clarified that it was not ready for the opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the deal with France, saying "there was no corruption", and lambasted the Congress, "which has had a legacy of scams" like Bofors and AgustaWestland. The much-awaited debate began after two pre-lunch adjournments of the House with leader of Congress Mallikarjun Kharge requesting Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to keep the proceedings in order as AIADMK and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) members had started shouted slogans. The AIADMK was protesting over the Cauvery water dispute while the TDP was demanding special status for Andhra Pradesh. Mahajan requested agitating members to go back to their seats, but they did not relent. Amid the din, she allowed Rahul Gandhi to speak on Rafale, mentioning she was giving him permission on request of Congress leader K.C. Venugopal. Getting Speaker's permission, Gandhi stood up to speak, but did not feel comfortable because of the pandemonium. He changed his seat seeking Mahajan's permission. The House witnessed maximum attendance with all eyes fixed on what Rahul was to speak. Some Rajya Sabha members including Aam Aadmi Party's Sanjay Singh were watching the debate from a designated gallery near the visitors gallery of the House. When Rahul mentioned Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on more than two occasions during his speech, she waived her hand towards him giving a smile with BJP MP Anurag Singh Thakur. All ruling party members stood up making a noise when Gandhi sought Speaker's permission to play a purported recording of a conversation of a Goa Minister on the Rafale deal accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of bypassing procedure to award the contract to a private entity after agreeing to a three-time hike in the price per aircraft and reducing the number of planes to be bought. Mahajan rejected his demand and also denied him permission to read out the recorded statement, saying "you cannot run any recording in the House. If you want to read any recorded statement, you have to authenticate it first". Meanwhile, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who took part in the debate on behalf of the ruling party, said: "All of it is a lie; that is why he is not ready to authenticate". Subsequently all ruling members stood up and started shouting slogans against Congress with opposition party members raising slogans "chowkidar chor hai" leading the Speaker to adjourn the House for five minutes and asking the MPs to reassemble at 2.30 p.m. During the adjournment, Gandhi, Kharge, Shashi Tharoor and Jyotiraditya Scindia were seen planning something. Soon after the House met, Gandhi again led Speaker to raise objection against him when he took name of a businessman linked to the deal whom he later named "A", saying "new rules are being informed, as I know only an MP's name cannot be taken in the House". All Congress members congratulated Gandhi when he ended his speech amid the din in the House which, meanwhile, saw AIADMK members throwing torn papers in the air. Then Jaitley began his speech over the issue calling all allegations of Gandhi "far from truth" and as like "kindergarten", leading to fresh uproar. All Congress members came near Speaker's podium when Jaitley referred to Enforcement Directorate's remand application in which it had claimed that AgustaWestland middleman Christian Michel had taken the name of a "Mrs Gandhi" and "son of an Italian lady". The ruling party then started sloganeering "maa, beta chor hain" and the opposition demanding a JPC probe. Amid the ruckus, Congress members Sushmita Dev and Rajiv Satav made paper planes and threw them in the air towards treasury benches about which Speaker warned them not to do so. "What is happening? Didn't you fly paper planes in childhood? You people demanded a discussion on Rafale and you should listen," Mahajan said. Jaitely mocked over the Congress member's act, saying "it is eurofighter jet" and the House saw another adjournment over half-an-hour. After Jaitley completed his speech, TMC's Saugata Roy, BJD's Kalikesh Narayan Dev, CPI-M's Mohd Salim and Shiv Sena's Arvind Sawant raised several questions seeking government to reply on them. As soon as Mahajan asked Samajwadi Party MP Dharmendra Yadav to speak, protesting AIADMK members went more aggressive, one of them standing on the chair near the Speaker's podium. This led Mahajan to announce a 15-minute adjournment of the House and then naming 24 AIADMK members suspending them for five consecutive seatings. From the beginning of the winter session, the ruling party has been insisting on a debate, but the opposition party has stuck on with its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal.

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