The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Day One too hot for Somnath

New Delhi, June 4: After all the noises and promises of cooperation to the chair, newly-elected Speaker Somnath Chatterjee today got a preview of the challenges ahead.

“I had said that it should be spicy but not like this. But I don’t want to be a headmaster,” a smiling Chatterjee said later about the start of his new innings but added it was “very good and exciting”.

Barely had he responded to the felicitations from front-ranking leaders on either side of the Lok Sabha divide and proceeded to the next item on the agenda than the new leader of the Opposition stood up to make a point.

The treasury benches immediately knew what L.K. Advani was up to. Yesterday, he had led NDA MPs to Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest against the induction of “tainted” leaders in the Union cabinet.

Advani today stood up as the customary introduction of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the members, followed by the Prime Minister’s introduction of his ministers, was to take place.

Treasury-bench members jumped to their feet and vociferously protested against Advani’s intervention. NDA members were equally aggressive in their new role as the Opposition and demanded that Advani be allowed to make his submission.

The leader of the Opposition expressed “disappointment” over the induction of persons with “criminal background” in the cabinet. He was, however, not allowed to mention names by the treasury benches, and also could not be heard above the din created by his party members. But everyone understood he was referring to certain Rashtriya Janata Dal ministers.

The RJD was quick to flash a list of candidates with criminal background whom the BJP and other NDA parties had fielded in the general elections.

In all the slogan-shouting, the Prime Minister laboured to get the attention of the ministers as he went about introducing them to the House. The formality over, the Speaker adjourned the Lok Sabha.

The Rajya Sabha in contrast was absolutely quiet as BJP members greeted the first day of the new session in the Upper House with glum faces. The leaders of the Congress and its allies were all smiles, finding themselves on the right side of the House after five years.

“In the Rajya Sabha, there was no noise. It was all very peaceful,” CPM MP Nilotpal Basu said.

Rajya Sabha chairperson Bhairon Singh Shekhawat introduced the Prime Minister to the House. Singh was elected its leader in place of BJP MP Jaswant Singh.

Senior Congress MPs Ghulam Nabi Azad and Arjun Singh in the front row were among the members who loudly thumped the desks to greet Singh.

Former minister Jaswant Singh, his usual inscrutable expression in place, sat where the Prime Minister used to sit earlier as leader of Opposition. Next to him was Najma Heptullah, the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson who quit the Congress following a cold war with Sonia Gandhi.

Top BJP leaders Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj, once among the most vociferous defenders of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, sat in silence. They had swapped places with Congress’ Pranab Mukherjee and Motilal Vohra.

Even more conspicuous was the silence of S.S. Ahluwalia, the BJP’s loudest voice against the Congress and the Left. He sat in the back row of the Opposition benches. His equally vociferous colleague, Sangh Priya Gautam, matched Ahluwalia in silence.

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