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‘Dictatorial streak’ vs ‘palace coup’ Aggressive Rahul fires barbs at Modi and Speaker, Jaitley lashes back

New Delhi, Aug. 6: Against the backdrop of the insurance bill getting stuck in the web of political opportunism, the BJP and the Congress today drifted into the war zone with their leaders firing away recklessly and ending up hitting each other where it hurts most.

Rahul Gandhi alleged a “dictatorial” streak in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, prompting finance minister Arun Jaitley to rip into the Congress’s first family by referring to a possible “palace coup”. Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad said the BJP had already suffered a coup.

The eruption of such a bitter fight in the middle of serious efforts to create an understanding for the passage of the insurance bill means a breakdown of relationship between the two sides.

An additional dimension got unwittingly added to the political warfare as Rahul questioned the impartiality of Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. The Congress tried to substantiate Rahul’s charge and the government rushed to the defence of the Speaker.

The first signs of open confrontation emerged in the Lok Sabha when the Congress spoke of rising communal tension in parts of the country and Rahul joined the party members in the well of the House.

Although the party leadership usually desists from trooping into the well, Rahul sprang a surprise and shouted “tanashahi nahin chalegi (dictatorship cannot go on)”.

After the rare activism in the House, Rahul told reporters outside: “We are making a point — the Speaker, I mean…. It is completely one-sided partiality…. So, that’s what we’re raising. There is a mentality in the government… discussion is not allowed. We are not being allowed to speak in Parliament. There is a mentality in this government… that only one man’s voice should be heard.”

The government took umbrage as Rahul went beyond general political criticism and specifically targeted the Speaker and the Prime Minister.

While describing the Speaker’s conduct as “one-sided partiality” is a serious charge, the statement that only one man’s voice counts was a clear reference to Modi’s absolute dominance which is being seen as undermining the cabinet system.

This forced several ministers, including Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu, to step forward and confront Rahul but what finance minister Jaitley said took the fight to another level.

“The reason is very clear…. They have been facing a palace coup. The Congress is facing a coup within the party. For that, you need not drag the House or the presiding officer into the mess. Day after day, established leaders are speaking out. If you want to show that you are doing something, it’s better you lead your party. It’s time for the Congress to introspect,” Jaitley said.

“Questions are being raised about the competence of the leadership. It (the furore in the House) is just to show their leaders that they are also capable of aggression,” Jaitley added.

Sonia Gandhi chose not to lock horns with Jaitley and responded to questions by saying “let them say whatever they want”.

The strikeback came in the evening through Azad who said “in our party, they are talking of coup. In their party, coup has already happened.”

While Azad was referring to the total control of the BJP by Modi and Amit Shah, the BJP spoke of the coup in the context of a growing demand to induct Priyanka to make up for Rahul’s deficient leadership.

Asked about Rahul’s decision to question the Speaker’s impartiality, Azad said: “If there is an issue between an MP and the Speaker, they can sort it out. Demanding debate is the right of a member. But why is half of the cabinet jumping into the fray? The government does not have a role in this and the Speaker can deal with the MP independently.”

The Congress, however, tried its best to buttress Rahul’s arguments, saying the Speaker has been neglecting the legitimate demands of the Opposition while giving undue importance to the government’s wish.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “Decisions taken by the Speaker cannot be described as objective or independent. She pays heed to only one side. It is not good for parliamentary democracy.”

Pointing out that 600 incidents of communal tension had been reported in 10 to 11 weeks and 400 were in areas where bypolls are scheduled, Singhvi said: “Not allowing a debate on this is showing insensitivity to the gravity of the matter. We gave notice for suspension of the question hour last night only. We were told to wait for the question hour to be over and then in the zero hour, the Speaker said the business advisory committee will decide. They are riding roughshod on our most reasonable demand.”

Speaker Mahajan rejected the charges. “If somebody has to level an allegation, then I cannot do anything. I am trying to do my work with integrity. You tell me what can I do about it?” she said.