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House seat change makes MLAs see red

Senior MLA Anjan Dutta speaks to reporters after walking out of the Assembly on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Aug. 6: A change in seating arrangement sparked off a row in Assam Assembly today with senior Congress MLA Anjan Dutta walking out in protest after he found the seat he was occupying for the past two days had been allocated to senior party colleague Ardhendu Dey.

Before boycotting the question hour, he accused Speaker Pranab Gogoi of discriminating against him. Congress MLA from Bihpuria and AICC secretary Bhupen Kumar Borah also walked out of the House, expressing solidarity with Dutta.

“I have been an MLA since 1991 when Hiteswar Saikia was the chief minister and have also been a cabinet minister. It was an insult to me. What is the justification in changing my seat to the second row and on what basis was it done?” asked an agitated Dutta. He claimed that an MLA junior to him was given a seat in the first row, which is usually reserved for former ministers.

Borah tweeted soon after on why he had walked out. “I was very unhappy with the way an intra-party issue was taken to the Assembly floor. I staged a walk-out during question hour because of that.”

The Speaker had effected the seat change after Dey, who was dropped from the ministry by chief minister Tarun Gogoi along with Siddique Ahmed for allegedly indulging in dissident activities, lodged a complaint with the Speaker yesterday for giving him a seat in the second row.

While Dutta was protesting his seat change, two first-time Congress MLAs — Pijush Hazarika and Jayanta Malla Baruah — got up in defence of the Speaker, reflecting the divide within the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).

Hazarika and Baruah are staunch backers of former cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who spearheaded the campaign to unseat the chief minister. They were vociferous in their opposition to the protest launched by Dutta, who is said to have played a key role in thwarting the bid by the Sarma camp to oust Gogoi.

Outside the House, Sarma said he had requested the Speaker to allocate him a seat at the back so that the row over seating would end.

Party insiders said questions would be raised in the manner in which Dutta’s seat was changed without any intimation to accommodate Dey.

This is not the first time the Speaker has been dragged into a controversy. On the first day of the budget session, Sarma had sought a clarification from the government on media reports about two Congress legislators, including one associated with the government, seeking legal opinion on how a Speaker can be removed.

Reports said the move to seek legal opinion was triggered after the Sarma camp claimed through the media that the Speaker, who should be neutral, was with them.

Senior AGP legislator Phani Bhushan Choudhury said such issues should be settled outside the House. “People will laugh at us for fighting over seats instead of discussing burning issues,” he said.


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