Antulay, insurance reforms rock Rajya Sabha


New Delhi : A belligerent opposition Monday prevented the Rajya Sabha from functioning over Minority Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay’s remarks on slain Maharashtra Police officer Hemant Karkare and the proposed insurance sector reforms – but the government still managed to get three bills passed by voice vote.

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The government also announced that it would make a statement in the house Tuesday, the last day of the present session, on Antulay.

“Tomorrow, before the house adjourns, we will make a statement,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

The day, which saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) forcing five adjournments, began with the party and the Shiv Sena advancing to the speaker’s podium and shouting slogans against Antulay for suggesting that Karkare, who headed Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) and died during the Mumbai terror attacks, was killed because he was probing a radical Hindu group’s alleged role in the bomb blasts in the state’s Malegaon town.

They demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his capacity as the leader of the house, or Home Minister P. Chidambaram make a statement on the issue.

Failing to restore order, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari adjourned the house at 11.11 a.m. for 10 minutes.

The ruckus continued as the house resumed at 11.21 a.m., leading Ansari to remark in exasperation: “Please don’t do this. The government has said it will make a statement.”

In less than five minutes, Ansari then adjourned the house till 12 noon.

As soon as the house reassembled, Left MPs rushed to the chairman’s podium to protest against the tabling of a bill on the insurance sector that was listed for Monday.

As the Left MPs angrily waved copies of the bill, Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan in the chair initially said he would not let the bill be introduced and that “I will give you an opportunity to talk”.

Then, he abruptly asked Minster of State for Finance Pawan Kumar Bansal to introduce the bill. As he rose to do so, an opposition MP who could not be identified turned around from the group around the chairman’s podium and attempted to move toward the treasury benches.

Immediately, Mukherjee, who was seated in the front row, got up, grabbed the MP by the arm and violently pushed him back even as other members rushed to separate the two.

The house then gave leave, by a voice vote, to introduce the bill for consideration.

With the din continuing, around 12.15 p.m., Rahman Khan adjourned the house till 2 p.m.

The BJP MPs continued as the house resumed and fell silent only when party leader M. Venkaiah Naidu rose to speak.

“Antulay has repeated his statement. It is an anti-national statement. It has broken the unity of the government and of parliament. It breaches propriety. The whole country is worried, concerned and agitated (over Antualy’s remarks),” Naidu maintained.

“He has made a statement. He should have discussed it in the cabinet. He has broken all norms of parliamentary democracy. In any other country, he would have been fired and taken to task,” Naidu said.

“Even (former Pakistani prime minister) Nawaz Sharif has admitted that Kasab (the only terrorist nabbed during the Mumbai attacks) is a Pakistani. Why is the government silent? Everyone was expecting the government to make a statement,” Naidu contended.

It was at this stage that Mukherjee got up to say the statement would be made Tuesday.

With the BJP and the Left continuing their protests, Rahman Khan called on Mukherjee to move a bill on establishing a South Asian University in New Delhi, a SAARC initiative that India has proposed.

The bill was adopted by a voice vote.

Around 2.15 p.m., Khan adjourned the house till 3 p.m.

With the twin protests continuing when the house reassembled, the deputy chairman called on Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan to move a bill amending the law relating to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes that was not even listed for Monday. This, too, passed by a voice vote.

Similarly, Home Minister P. Chidambaram moved the Appropriations Bill 2008-09 and this also was carried by a voice vote.

With the high decibel protests continuing unabated, Rahman Khan adjourned the house around 3.15 p.m. for the day to meet at 11 a.m. Tuesday.