Ministers doze as president speaks


New Delhi : It was her maiden speech in parliament but the import of President Pratibha Patil’s address on day one of the budget session seemed lost on many senior MPs who were caught napping – literally.

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Amongst those seen nodding off as Patil addressed the joint session of parliament, focussing on India’s successful growth story in a speech that lasted 45 minutes and covered 19 pages, were External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and Heavy Industries Minister Santosh Mohan Deb – all were seated in the front row – and Communications Minister A. Raja.

And if they weren’t dozing, they were chatting. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs Maneka Gandhi and Manvendra Singh, seated at the back, could be seen deep in conversation, as could BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain and Akhilesh Yadav, son of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh.

But senior BJP MPs Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi, who were sharing a bench, were listening keenly. And so were most of the young Congress MPs, including Rahul Gandhi, Milind Deora and Jitin Prasada.

Unfortunately, Patil’s speech did not give treasury benches the chance to thump their desks. However, the MPs applauded loudly when the president referred to the UN General Assembly’s unanimous resolution to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday as the ‘international day of non-violence’.


Different parties, different issues

While the president stressed on inclusive growth in her speech, others brought up their own issues. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) raised the issue of a separate state of Telangana, the Shiv Sena farmer suicides and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) took objection to the speech not being read out in Hindi.

The president had just started reading her speech when TRS MPs, dressed in pink stoles, stood up holding banners and shouting slogans of “Jai Telangana”. Shiv Sena’s Anand Geete added to the noise levels as Patil finished her speech to get up and say: “There are a number of farmers committing suicide every day. This government has not done any thing for them. The president’s speech also did not mention about them.”

The JD-U was irked by Vice President Hamid Ansari’s decision to table the Hindi version of the president’s speech. Said Prabhunath Singh as everyone got up for the national anthem: “You have insulted our national language. You have not read the speech in Hindi.”


Free seating

There was an air of conviviality in the house Monday as MPs met up after a long absence. Most MPs did not sit according to party placements. Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, for instance, preferred to share the bench with Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Sadhu Yadav, brother-in-law of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, and some other Rajya Sabha MPs.

Similarly, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury sat near Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav; Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule found her place near BJP’s Yashodhara Raje Scindia.