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Houses grind to a halt over ‘tainted’ ministers

New Delhi, June 8: A determined Opposition today cranked up its agitation against six “tainted” ministers in Parliament, stalling proceedings in both Houses.

It ground the Rajya Sabha to a halt immediately after it assembled and forced the Lok Sabha to be adjourned twice, at 11.35 am and then at 2 pm for the day.

Trouble started when National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes, armed with a report of the Director- General of Military Operations, stood up seemingly to dismiss media reports that the Vajpayee government’s delay in ordering air strikes during the Kargil conflict resulted in higher casualties.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) members Devendra Prasad Yadav and Raghunath Jha, backed by party colleagues and others from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), sprang up and began levelling charges against Fernandes.

Although Speaker Somnath Chatterjee allowed Fernandes to speak, he was shouted down by the treasury benches, triggering heated exchanges.

Soon agitated Opposition members rushed to the well of the House and started raising slogans about removal of the “tainted” ministers. They cried “Daagi mantri hatao, desh bachao (remove tainted ministers, save the nation)”, “Chara chor, khajana chor, gaddi chhoro (Fodder and coffer thieves, quit the government)” till the House was adjourned.

Amid the din, the Lok Sabha took up around 11.15 am the motion of thanks on the President’s address.

Congress member Pawan Kumar moved the motion with Jyotiraditya Scindia seconding it. A hassled Chatterjee then ordered a break till 2 pm. The House reconvened after lunch and was immediately adjourned for the day as the BJP and its allies kept up the clamour.

With the NDA threatening to stall the Houses for the two remaining days of the session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met leader of the Opposition .K. Advani to break the impasse. BJP sources said the meeting was informal and nothing concrete emerged.

Among the NDA’s demands are dropping Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mohammad Taslimuddin, Prem Gupta, M.A.A. Fatmi, Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav, all of the RJD, and Sibu Soren of the JMM, and a clarification from the Prime Minister on the government’s position on them. It also wants Advani and Fernandes to be allowed to speak without interruptions in the House.

“Till the Prime Minister doesn’t clarify the government’s position regarding the tainted ministers, we will maintain this aggressive posture,” BJP spokesperson V.K. Malhotra told reporters later.

Malhotra today met parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

After the meeting, Azad dismissed suggestions that the government planned to adjourn the House sine die tomorrow in view of the standoff. “At least half day’s business will be gone through swiftly tomorrow,” he said. The first job is the election of deputy Speaker. “There is no change in the schedule of the session”, which is concluding on June 10, he added.

Sources said indications are that the Speaker may not easily oblige the Opposition by adjourning the House tomorrow. He might try his best to run it irrespective of provocation by the NDA benches.

Today, Chatterjee had a tough time calming members. “Bahut ho gaya, ab ja kar baithiye (It is enough, please take your seats). You are not helping me. You are all my friends. This is also your House,” he was heard shouting.

The Opposition, the sources said, may continue to disrupt the House till Thursday when the motion of thanks on the President’s address will be put to vote. If the Houses continue to be in turmoil, the motion could be passed by a voice vote and then Parliament prorogued.

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