The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ayodhya, Taj add to House chaos

New Delhi, July 31: The Lok Sabha witnessed yet another morning of disruption today as four hot issues jostled for the attention of members.

The question hour had barely got over when the entire Opposition zeroed in on media reports about CBI’s videotape screenings on the Babri Masjid demolition.

Around the same time, the Samajwadi Party was up in arms over the alleged soft-pedalling of the CBI probe into the shelved Taj heritage corridor project.

In the treasury benches, NDA members from Bihar jumped to their feet to voice concern over the reported deterioration of law and order in the state.

The Shiv Sena and the BJP, however, took the lead as they raised the issue of the two blasts in Mumbai, one of them early this morning, as soon as zero hour started.

The issue was the first of the four topics to be raised with Speaker Manohar Joshi’s permission.

But in their eagerness to put the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government on the mat, the Sena-BJP members made an indiscretion. They fielded BJP’s Jayawanti Mehta, the minister of state for power, to present their case. Under procedural rules, a minister does not speak for himself/herself in the House.

Sensing the imminent attack on its state government, the Congress quickly counter-attacked by turning the blast issue into a procedural wrangle.

Party chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, deputy leader Shivraj Patil and chief spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy immediately pointed out the procedural lapse to the Speaker.

Joshi repeatedly told Congress members that he had allowed Mehta to go ahead as the minister could speak for herself under the “special circumstances”.

Joshi quickly cited his own example, saying that as a minister he had spoken in his capacity as a member of the House.

But the Congress leaders, on a firm wicket, were unmoved. They pointed out that every minister spoke for the government in accordance with the principle of collective responsibility. The Speaker, they said, could not establish a “wrong precedent.”

Patil, a former Speaker, emphasised that Mehta’s action went against convention.

Reddy demanded that either the minister’s remarks be expunged from the records or deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, ready with a statement on the blasts, be disallowed to read his statement.

In a spot, Joshi was saved from further debate when several Congress members trooped to the well of the House and shouted slogans. Joshi adjourned the House for 15 minutes.

The Sena-BJP strategy foiled, treasury benchers from Maharashtra were seen wondering how Mehta was allowed to speak and spoil their game. Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was seen asking who prompted Mehta’s indiscretion.

When the House reassembled, the Speaker said he would decide on the Congress demand to expunge Mehta’s remarks on the blasts, according to House procedures.

Though the Sena-BJP got no further opportunity to attack the Congress on the blasts, the entire Opposition forced adjournment of the House for the rest of the day by insisting on a discussion on the Babri demolition tapes.

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