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Modi away, rudderless Centre nurses black eye on Gaza

New Delhi, July 17: Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari today rejected the request of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to de-list a debate on the Gaza attacks from the agenda of the House.

It also emerged today that Arun Jaitley, the leader of the House, had conveyed to Ansari last evening that the government had not foreclosed its options on a debate — an indication that was in variance with Sushma’s unequivocal stand.

The mixed signals have left the government looking somewhat rudderless in the absence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and it is now exploring the possibility of holding a discussion on Gaza after he returns home.

A short-duration discussion may be taken up on Monday along with the discussion on the railway budget, government sources said but added that the final decision would be taken tomorrow after the Prime Minister returned from Brazil.

As soon as the upper House convened at 11am today, chairman and Vice-President Ansari, a former IFS officer who had served in the Gulf and was ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said he had received a communication last evening from Jaitley stating the short duration discussion on the Palestine issue may not be taken up on Thursday.

Jaitley conveyed to the chairman that the government would communicate an appropriate date soon, said Ansari. The disclosure created the impression that the government was waiting for the Prime Minister to return before taking the final call.

Yesterday, after the list of business included a short-duration discussion on the violence in Gaza, Sushma had written to the chairman, drawing his attention to rules relating to conditions of admissibility of motions on matters of public interest.

She had contended that rules do not permit discussion on a matter that is not primarily the concern of the Government of India and which “refers discourteously to a friendly foreign country”. Ansari had kept his ruling “reserved” and the debate did not take place yesterday.

Today, Ansari said he found the rules quoted by Sushma relate to motions on matters of public importance and not to the short-duration discussion that was listed.

“In the instant case, I do not find any infirmity in the notices given by the honourable leader of the Opposition and others,” said Ansari. “In view of the position stated above, I am unable to accede to the request of the honourable minister,” he said.

The notices Ansari was referring to were given yesterday by nine Opposition MPs to discuss the violence in Gaza.

Ansari cited Rule 177 which says that after the chairman has admitted a short-duration discussion on a subject, the date for the discussion has to be fixed “in consultation with the leader of the council” (Jaitley, in this case).

Later, deputy chairman P.J. Kurien, who drew some criticism for using the word “consent” instead of “consultation”, said that in his three decades in Parliament he had not seen an instance where a minister did not turn up for a discussion already listed.

Yesterday, a BJP minister had said that an “error of judgement” by junior parliamentary affairs minister Prakash Javadekar might have been behind the inclusion of the subject in the revised list.

Javadekar was seen speaking to fellow members today but could not prevent a fresh uproar.

Soon after Ansari’s statement, deputy leader of Opposition Anand Sharma said: “The government today told us that the Prime Minister is away, so it cannot be taken up. The BRICS declaration has half a page on this.”

Eventually, after two adjournments till 2pm, the Rajya Sabha re-convened for one more round of disruptions. The House was then adjourned till tomorrow.