The group is also building a new airport for Mumbai, and redeveloping the city’s sprawling Dharavi slum.
The Parliament resumed its Budget Session last week to clear Budgetary demands of Central Ministries and approve the Finance Bill, 2023, but it was stalemated over other issues. If the first part of the Session saw Government-Opposition confrontation over the Hindenburg Research report on Adani Group of companies, the second part has already lost five of its 17 sittings over the government’s insistence for apology by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his remarks in the UK on Indian democracy.
Every time ruling BJP members in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha raised the issue of Gandhi’s apology, the Opposition benches responded with shouts for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into Adani Group’s financial controversies. The result was the two Houses were adjourned after brief sittings in the morning and afternoon. On Friday, the two Houses adjourned for next Monday after 15-20 minutes of sitting. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in the Lok Sabha and Leader of the House Piyush Goyal in the Rajya Sabha flagged the issue of Gandhi’s speeches, and demanded that he apologise for his comments on Indian Parliament and democracy.
Quite unusually, members from the Treasury Benches shouted for Gandhi’s apology, without caring for what the Opposition was shouting for. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar adjourned proceedings quickly as neither side showed any sign of restoring order. The government wanted Gandhi to come to the House and apologise. He came to the Lok Sabha on Thursday afternoon, but the House was adjourned for the day amidst chaos. Dhankhar rejected several notices under Rule 267 for suspension of work to discuss the Adani issue.
The Treasury Benches led by Ministers took up the issue of Gandhi’s speeches so strongly that the Adani issue seemed getting pushed out of the Parliamentary discourse. Just as the two Houses got to business on Monday, the Defence Minister raised the issue and said the Congress leader had spoken against the country and sought foreign powers’ intervention to “save” Indian democracy. This should be condemned by the House and Gandhi should be asked to apologise before the House. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said Gandhi had cast aspersions on the Speaker by wrongly alleging his microphone was switched off when he was speaking.
Birla said that the world accepted that India had a strong democratic system. In the Rajya Sabha, the Leader of the House did not name Gandhi as he is member of the Lok Sabha but spoke in similar terms. Goyal said the Congress leader had defamed the Indian judiciary, Election Commission and even the Press. Recalling the imposition of the Emergency under the Congress rule, Goyal said the freedom of Press was muzzled during the Emergency. The democracy gets threatened when elected governments are dismissed under Article 356 without valid reasons, and this was done during the Congress Governments at the Centre, he said.
Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge objected to Goyal’s references to a member of the other House. As Kharge kept commenting on the state of democracy, the House was adjourned till the afternoon sitting. In the afternoon, Goyal said the whole world had acknowledged the leadership Prime Minister Narendra Modi had provided to India, and yet an MP had spoken ill of India abroad. Kharge cited earlier rulings by Rajya Sabha presiding officers that members of one House should not comment on members of the other House. Goyal said he had not named anybody and it seemed the Congress benches felt guilty of something wrong. The Chairman noted the arguments but deferred his ruling.
The debate continued the whole week whether Gandhi had spoken something for which he should apologise. Every time the ruling benches shouted for apology, the Opposition benches responded in equal measure with their demand for a JPC into the Adani Group affairs. There was an interlude in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday when the Chairman complimented the filmmakers who had won two Oscar awards.
Several members felicitated the award winners saying their achievements were historic and acknowledged Indian talent. Even during this happy atmosphere, there were moments when it appeared that order in the House could derail, and the Chairman had to repeatedly urge members not to digress and speak on the awards only.