P J Kurien’s election as the Deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha may have been a rare instance of bipartisan politics in Parliament, but his first day in office was not as smooth.
All the political parties unanimously chose the veteran Congress member as the Deputy Chairman, after the House reassembled following the suspension of Question Hour.
There were seven motions moved by the members to propose Kurien’s name, starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which was seconded by Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley.
Following his election, Kurien was escorted by both Singh and Jaitley to his seat. “The fact that the choice has been made unanimously is a reflection of the wide esteem, support and appreciation which P J Kurien enjoys in this House,” Manmohan said in his felicitation address.
Jaitley noted that Kurien had earned “tremendous goodwill” among members and was regarded as a “universal friend”.
“And, Sir, now that he has literally crossed the floor and come to this side, I am sure that he will be very fair to the side which he now sits on,” Jaitley said in a lighter vein.
Thereafter, Kurien got up to speak, first reading out from a prepared speech which was interspersed with extempore remarks.
Replying to some of the suggestions, he said, “I assure you that I will bear in my mind your advice and would try to accommodate every Member, especially from the smaller parties, of course, within the constraints of time.” “And, my fondness for the Bell is natural because I was a teacher. I will try to control the reflex action of my lips hereafter, and would try my best, if I don’t succeed, please forgive me for that,” he added, with a smile. Then, Chairman of the House, Ansari invited him to take charge of the proceedings.
Soon after, the Opposition NDA members were on their feet demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister over the CAG report on the allocation of coal blocks. As the Opposition kept on shouting, the ministers could be heard saying that they were ready for a discussion. Meanwhile, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla went up to the Chair.
However, a live microphone picked up his whisper: “Adjourn the House for the day.”
With the Opposition in an unrelenting mood, Kurien adjourned the House for the day, till 11 am on Wednesday. But a few hours later another political controversy erupted, with some television channels repeatedly playing up the footage of the minister whispering into the Chair’s ears.
While Arun Jaitley and BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad didn’t comment, another party spokesperson Prakash Javadeakar said: “Congress is engaging in double-speak. On one hand it is telling the Chair to adjourn the House, and on the other, it is blaming the BJP for causing disruptions. They have been badly exposed.”
Kurien brushed aside the controversy saying that the Chair gets suggestions from all sides, but it was up to him to take action.
“Chair takes independent decisions and not because ‘x’ or ‘y’ suggests something. I have taken independent decision for which I am responsible,” he affirmed.