NEW DELHI:Till Tuesday, it appeared that the Monsoon session of Parliament was set for a complete wash out. But on the penultimate day, the tables were turned. Congress agitation demanding External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s resignation was washed out, on the Floor of Lok Sabha.
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The government made the most of the little toehold it got after the Speaker admitted the Congress’ adjournment motion, ironically on Sushma’s urging, to discuss “Laitgate”. It converted the Congress attack citing “impropriety” and “conflict of interest” of the minister into a petulant “undemocratic” sulk of a losing side.
That the Congress MPs shouted slogans — “Dramabaazi bandh karo”, “PM aap baat karo, mantri ko barkhasth karo” et al — in the Well of the House in a failed attempt to drown out Sushma’s reply to Mallikarjun Kharge’s attack, only helped reinstate the government’s portrayal of it as an unreasonable Opposition, bent on settling scores at the cost of a Parliament session.
Outwitted once it changed its strategy, effectively a climb-down from its earlier stance of ‘no discussion before resignation’, the Congress vice president picked on the only issue left, Narendra Modi’s conspicuous absence from the House. “The Prime Minister is not here because he does not have the guts to face the House and our questions... Prime Minister needs to speak,” Rahul Gandhi said, in his short intervention — his first speech this Session.
Rahul’s aggressive linking of the PM’s pre-poll promise of fighting illicit funds to the controversy at hand — “Lalit Modi is the symbol of black money” or to Sushma — “Why were you so discreet in helping Lalit Modi” or questions like how much money came to the Swaraj family account, did not hold till the end.
Simply because the Congress, Kharge to be more specific, was not there to provide a counter to the stinging defence of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu, put up on Sushma’s behalf, to round off the discussion in the House. The Congress by then had staged a walkout from the Lok Sabha.
The hint of a smile on Speaker Sumitra Mahajan’s face as she called out Kharge’s name and pointedly announced, “He is not present in the House to give a reply,” was a dead giveaway — the Opposition had been checkmated. Even the Congress walkout seemed ill-timed. It appeared like a flight from the battleground, not a protest march out.
Sushma herself had to fall back on the past deeds of the Congress, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi — raking up (Union Carbide former chairman Warren) Anderson (Bofors scandal accused Ottavio) Quattrochhi and Adil Shahryar — to justify her own “humanitarian” act for Lalit Modi or his cancer-patient wife, in a comparative light.
“Since you like holidaying so much, next time you take a break, I suggest you read up on your
family history, read all the kale karname (wrong deeds) and ask, ‘mamma, how much money did we make in the Quattrocchi case, why did we let (1984 Bhopal gas tragedy accused) Warren Anderson go? Why the quid pro quo?” Sushma told Rahul, in a caustic rebuttal to the Congress charge.
But, Rahul for some strange reason refrained from asking the tough questions. Instead, he retold how Sushma held his hands the evening before to enquire why he was so angry with her and had failed to meet his eyes.