Ruckus continues in Parliament; Congress targets silent telecast of Lok Sabha proceedings

New Delhi: The first week of the second phase of the budget session was canceled as both ruling and opposition parties toughened their stand, with audio of TV proceedings of Lok Sabha being muted.

Sources in the Lok Sabha secretariat told The Hindu that the audio of the televised proceedings was muted due to a “technical problem”, but opposition members reacted sharply, accusing the ruling establishment of silencing their voices.

The Lok Sabha, which convened in the morning, was adjourned for the day within 20 minutes amid sloganeering by both the ruling and opposition benches. The ruling party continued to demand an apology from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his alleged “anti-India” remarks that he made in the UK, while the opposition reiterated its demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the Adani-Hindenburg issue . Adding to the chorus, members of the Congress stormed the Well soon after the House assembled for the day and demanded that Mr. Gandhi, who was present in the House, be allowed to speak. With their slogans “Rahul ji ko bolne do” (Let Mr Gandhi speak), Parliament TV’s audio was muted.

On Friday, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who met Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla in his chamber, said no breakthrough could be achieved unless Mr Gandhi was allowed to speak. “It is his right to speak on the floor of the House and reply to the allegations,” Chowdhury said. “How do you break the logjam when the ruling party is resorting to disruptions?” the Congress MP asked. Mr Gandhi had met the speaker on Thursday.

Mr. Birla’s call to order the House went in vain. “Honourable Members, I appeal to you to allow the smooth functioning of the House. People didn’t send you here to do this. I will give everyone an opportunity to speak, but the house has to be orderly,” Mr. Birla said. The protesting members ignored their pleas, the Speaker adjourned the House for the day.

The Congress has reacted sharply to the muting of the audio of Parliament TV. The party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Gaurav Gogoi, called it “a new low for democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted, ‘Sound muting on Parliament TV is a new technology. If you can turn off the transmission of sound to the world, you don’t need to turn off individual microphones!”

The party’s general secretary (communications) Jairam Ramesh elaborated on this point while talking to The Hindu. “Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar claimed a few days ago that the mike is never switched off in the Parliament of India. I immediately challenged that claim and sensed their displeasure. The mike remained switched off for more than 15 minutes in the Lok Sabha this morning and there is strong evidence of the same.

The Rajya Sabha went on for 20 minutes with an initial lull as papers and standing committee reports were presented. The removal of procedural items caused a stampede. Chairman Dhankhar informed the House that he had received 11 adjournment notices under Rule 267 (seeking adjournment of the business for the day to discuss important issues), but rejected them. “After carefully going through the issues, I am of the view that the notice cannot be allowed,” he added. Following this, Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge demanded to speak but was not allowed, leading to an uproar by members of the Congress and other opposition parties.

Members of the Treasury Bench also stood up in protest, repeating the same slogans as their Lok Sabha colleagues. Taking up the point of order raised by Mr Kharge, the Chairman directed Leader of the House Piyush Goyal to substantiate the claims made by him on March 13 and 14.

“With regard to the point of order raised by the Leader of the Opposition, I consider it expedient to direct the Leader of the House to certify the claims made by him on the issue during the day on March 13 and 14.” Dhankhar said. Amidst sloganeering, the Speaker adjourned the proceedings of the House till Monday.

Only 14 days are left in the meeting to complete major legislative business, including the Appropriation Bill, and debate key subjects like railways and rural development.