A fierce row in the Lok Sabha over a minister’s comments on the Nehru-Gandhi family and a Congress leader in turn calling him a chhokra (boy) led to multiple adjournments for the first time in this parliament session, which is being held amid unprecedented changes because of the coronavirus crisis.
Protests over Union Minister Anurag Thakur’s comments led to four adjournments until he made a concession and said: “I am pained if my words hurt anybody.”
In the commotion, opposition members also accused the Speaker of bias.
The fight started when Anurag Thakur, Minister of State for Finance, spoke out in defence of the PM-CARES fund, which the opposition says lacks transparency. After introducing the Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Anurag Thakur, her deputy, would talk about PM-CARES, the fund set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help in the coronavirus battle.
“From the high court to the Supreme Court, every court has validated the PM-CARES fund. Little children have contributed to it from their piggy banks. When it comes to talking about PM-CARES, you please do look at the PM National Relief Fund. In 1948, then PM Nehru-ji (Jawaharlal Nehru) ordered the creation of a Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund like a royal order. From 1948 till today, it has not been registered. How did it get (foreign contribution) FCRA clearance? The trust is not registered. PM CARES is a registered public charitable trust. This is for 130 crore people. You created a trust for the Gandhi family. Nehru, Sonia Gandhi were members of the PM National Relief Fund. This should be investigated,” said Anurag Thakur.
His remarks provoked a roar of protests from the opposition benches, specifically Congress MPs.
“Who is this boy from Himachal,” Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury lashed out at Mr Thakur. “How did Nehru come into this debate? Did we take (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s name? This two-bit chhokra…”
The Congress loudly demanded an apology from the minister and staged a walkout.
Demanding Mr Thakur’s apology for his remarks, the opposition raised slogans of : “Goli Maro Mantri resign!” This referred to a huge controversy over the minister appearing to prompt a crowd in Delhi to “shoot the traitors”, using the term for those who were protesting against a citizenship law.
Speaker Om Birla sternly asked opposition members to keep their masks on, saying: “If anyone plays with safety then they will be named and thrown out of the house.”
The Speaker was accused by Trinamool Congress member Kalyan Banerjee of bias and of trying to shield ruling BJP MPs. “If you want, then throw us out. We will not let this go on. We will not allow this,” said the Trinamool MP.
The Speaker, forced to adjourn the Lok Sabha, called an informal meeting of floor leaders to resolve the chaos.
When the members returned to the House, more chaos led to another adjournment.
After two more adjournments, Mr Thakur said in the House that he was “pained”, stopping short of an apology.
The Speaker also said he apologized for any mistake and added that members had been working under trying circumstances.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Adhir Chowdhury then came out in support of the Speaker.
“We want the House to run. We have no complaints against you. You are like our guardian. It is our collective responsibility to maintain decorum,” Mr Chowdhury said.
Rajnath Singh said the row over the minister “should be treated as closed with Mr Thakur acknowledging his utterances and the pain it had caused”.