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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 July 2024

Robust INDIA bloc defines constitutional agenda as 18th Lok Sabha opens

Rahul Gandhi, who stepped out of the House briefly, explained to reporters that the Constitution-waving was a protest against the “akraman” (assault) Modi and Shah had launched on the foundational text

J.P. Yadav New Delhi Published 25.06.24, 06:40 AM
Rahul Gandhi (extreme right, arm outstretched) waves a copy of the Constitution as Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes oath as a member of the 18th Lok Sabha on Monday

Rahul Gandhi (extreme right, arm outstretched) waves a copy of the Constitution as Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes oath as a member of the 18th Lok Sabha on Monday PTI picture

Opposition members singled out Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah for heckling in the Lok Sabha on Monday, waving red-cover copies of the Constitution as the duo took oath in a clear message on who their chief targets were in the new government.

Underlining the message further, the Opposition MPs sat quietly when other senior ministers like Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and Shivraj Singh Chouhan took the oath of affirmation.

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They made an exception when education minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s name was called out, breaking into chants of “NEET, NET, shame, shame” as the man at the centre of the exam controversy walked up to the podium.

Modi was the first to take oath, followed by the designated members on the panel to assist pro-tem Speaker Bhartruhari Mahtab — their number slashed from five to two after the three designated members from the Opposition pulled out.

Rajnath, the official Number Two in the government, was next to take the oath, followed by Shah, the de facto Number Two.

Rahul Gandhi, who stepped out of the House briefly, explained to reporters that the Constitution-waving was a protest against the “akraman” (assault) Modi and Shah had launched on the foundational text.

“The assault on the Constitution by the Prime Minister and Amit Shah is not acceptable to us. We will not let that happen and so we fetched copies of the Constitution during the oath-taking,” he said.

Rahul later posted a video on X showing him and other Opposition members waving pocket copies of the Constitution as Modi walks up to take the oath.

About half the newly elected MPs took the oath on Monday; the rest will do so on Tuesday.

As expected, a numerically replenished Opposition bristled with aggression inside and outside the House on the first day of the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha.

Before the House sat, INDIA bloc members gathered at the spot where Mahatma Gandhi’s statue stood before its relocation and waved copies of the Constitution, protesting the appointment of seven-time MP and BJP leader Bhartruhari Mahtab as pro-tem Speaker instead of eight-term Congress MP Kodikunnil Suresh.

With Sonia Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge bolstering their ranks, they slammed the irregularities in national-level entrance exams and the relocation of the Gandhi and Ambedkar statutes at Parliament.

As the House assembled, Opposition members stood up to ask why Suresh had been denied the pro-tem Speaker’s post. Cries of “Save the Constitution” greeted Mahtab, the Chair.

The three designated INDIA bloc members on the panel that is to assist Mahtab — Suresh (Congress), T.R. Baalu (DMK) and Sudip Bandyopadhyay (Trinamool) —withdrew in protest.

Suresh and Baalu stepped out as their names were called for taking the oath as part of the panel, choosing to wait till their names came up again as members were administered the oath state-wise.

Slogan slack

As a sombre-faced Modi walked into the House, BJP members tried to re-enact the fervour of the past but the effort seemed to lack punch.

They chanted “Bharat Mata ki jai”, followed by “Modi, Modi…” but failed to outmatch the Opposition’s counter-slogans about an “attack on democracy”.

“Jai Shri Ram”, the BJP members’ staple slogan in the previous Lok Sabha, was not heard at all.

If that was a consequence of the drubbing the party suffered in Uttar Pradesh, capped by the defeat in Faizabad-Ayodhya, the Opposition seemed keen on rubbing salt into the wound with what appeared a carefully crafted sitting arrangement.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav — chief architect of the BJP’s heartland misery — sat in the front row beside Awadhesh Prasad, the Dalit politician who defeated the BJP’s Lallu Singh from Faizabad. Rahul sat just one seat away.

The Samajwadis had made a spectacular entry — all 37 MPs sporting their party’s red cap and red gamchha (towel) and marching in behind Akhilesh as the treasury benches watched silently.

Trinamool seemed equally upbeat. Its MP Kalyan Banerjee sat in the front row right next to Rahul, oozing bonhomie.

Kalyan later teased cabinet minister Giriraj Singh as he walked up to take the oath, saying Trinamool owed its tally in Bengal partly to him. As rural development minister in the previous government, Giriraj had stopped the funds flow to Bengal under the 100 days’ job scheme, leaving thousands of workers unpaid.

BJP members dispensed with the courtesy witnessed in the last Lok Sabha when each ruling party MP had, after taking the oath, walked to the Opposition benches to greet the members before returning to their seats.

On Monday, Modi returned to the ruling benches straightaway after taking the oath and signing the register, and his flock took the cue.

An Opposition member was heard saying: “The divide is visible.”

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