Junior external affairs minister Meenakshi Lekhi has disowned a written reply tabled in her name in the Lok Sabha on Friday, marking a departure from the principle of collective responsibility of the council of ministers and leaving her own ministry scrambling for answers.
By Saturday evening, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had clarified that a technical correction was needed to the reply to reflect Lekhi’s colleague V. Muraleedharan as the minister of state replying to the Parliament question.
“This is being suitably undertaken,” Bagchi said, causing many to wonder whether Lekhi’s outburst reflected a difference of opinion within the ministry since there was no change to the text of the reply.
Article 75(3) of the Constitution says “the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People”, making it binding on every minister, senior or junior, to speak in one voice on government policy.
Replies to Parliament questions are considered the most authentic voice of the government, and considerable time and attention is devoted to this exercise.
The reply Lekhi disowned was to the question whether the government had any plans to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation in India, and whether Israel had specifically asked New Delhi to do so.
In a written reply to the unstarred question, the external affairs ministry said: “Designation of an organisation as terrorist is covered under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and declaring any organisation as terrorist is considered as per the provisions of the Act by the relevant government departments.”
The reply was tabled in the name of Lekhi. Quoting a post on X that carried an image of the reply, Lekhi said: “You have been misinformed as I have not signed any paper with this question and this answer.”
She tagged external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a separate post, Lekhi added: “Inquiry will reveal the culprit.”
She repeated this on Saturday when asked about the controversy while she was briefing the media at the BJP headquarters.
Some Opposition members had by then begun asking questions.
Priyanka Chaturvedi of the Shiv Sena (UBT) posted: “Meenakshi Lekhi ji is denying & disassociating to a response attributed to her — says has no idea who drafted this as response to a PQ (Parliament Question) since she didn’t sign it. Is she then claiming it is a forged response, if yes this is a serious breach and violation of the rules that prevail. Would be grateful for a clarification from @MEAIndia.”
Chaturvedi added: “Asking questions that were submitted through someone else led to expulsion of an MP yesterday, today a Minister denies that reply to a PQ was approved by her, shouldn’t that be investigated too? Shouldn’t it lead to seeking accountability, however innocuous the response from @MEAIndia?”
After the ministry clarification, Chaturvedi returned to X to further note: “This could have been handled internally regarding the MoS (minister of state) who should have signed off but this public outrage leads to further confusion on the authenticity of the response to the parliament question. Clearly all is not well amongst the team of MoS.”