NEW DELHI: The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday witnessed angry scenes and a war of words between the Opposition and the Treasury Benches as Leader of the Opposition (LoP) Mallikarjun Kharge tried to corner the government during the discussion on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address on various issues, including the Hindenburg report. He used the term "mauni baba" for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present in the House.
During the debate, on several occasions, House Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar urged the LoP to refrain from making allegations that cannot be authenticated by him. Amid the heated discussions, Mr Dhankhar reminded the members that the House is meant for "sober dialogues".
A heated exchange between the Opposition members and the Treasury Benches ensued when Mr Dhankhar asserted that any comments made in the House should be in "national interest" and not an allegation without substance, to which a visibly upset LoP asked the Chair why he was being called an anti-national when he was speaking the truth. Congress members demanded that the Chair's remarks be expunged.
Mr Kharge reiterated the Opposition's call for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to investigate the Hindenburg report on the Adani issue. In reply, Leader of the House Piyush Goyal said the LoP was talking about a purported wealth, which is a share market calculation and the JPC is formed when the allegations are against the government. He termed the Hindenburg report a "baseless foreign report".
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman also intervened during the debate to object to Mr Kharge's allegations against the government and said the LoP's remarks were infused with insinuation against the PM.
Mr Kharge said that in 2014, the PM had made the statement "na khaunga, na khane dunga" and asked, "was it a jumla?" The Congress leader also wondered if the Prime Minister was pandering to a select few industrialists.
Without naming Gautam Adani, who is in the middle of a political storm after the US-based short-seller Hindenburg Research's adverse report triggered a meltdown in the group's stocks, wiping out billions of dollars in market value, the Leader of the Opposition said that the wealth of a "close friend" of Mr Modi has grown 13 times in a few years.
To this, Mr Dhankhar intervened and said the discourse cannot stoop to allegations that are not substantiated or to the use of "loose expressions" and the casting of aspersions without any basis.
Mr Goyal also intervened and said Mr Kharge was making an allegation that cannot be substantiated and about "an association that has absolutely no basis whatsoever".
"He is talking of purported wealth that does not have any merit. That is a share market calculation in which the government has no role to play. It is for the regulators to see and for the share market participants to decide what value they give," Mr Goyal said.
When Mr Kharge argued that instead of strengthening public sector enterprises, which provide jobs to 10 lakh people, the government was letting public money to the tune of `82,000 crores be used to support the Adani Group, which employs "only 30,000 people", Mr Dhankhar intervened and said India has a robust mechanism on how people are awarded contracts.
"I am only cautioning the LoP that he is trying to give the impression that India is a country where contracts can be just given away," the Chairman said, drawing sharp response from the Opposition members.
Mr Goyal said the Chair is duty-bound to protect Indians to ensure that the national interest is not compromised.
Mr Dhankhar said any comments made in the House should be in the national interest and authenticated. "It cannot be an allegation without substance," he added.
The Opposition members then jointly asked the Chairman to point out the anti-national comments in Mr Kharge's statement.
"Why I say so? An expression was given by the Leader of the Opposition that the largest democracy on earth is giving contracts like this," Mr Dhankhar said.
Mr Kharge retorted on the anti-national remark and said, "I differ with your opinion. If I speak the truth, it is anti-national. I am not anti-national. I am more patriotic than any of you. I am a 'bhoomiputra'... Don't try to suppress my feelings. You are looting the country and telling me that I am anti-national."
Mr Goyal intervened and said a JPC is set up when there are scams like "Coalgate" or the 2G scam or there are allegations against the government on the issue of securities.
When Mr Kharge cited Atal Bihari Vajpayee's 'raj dharma' remark post the 2002 Gujarat riots, Treasury Bench members accused him of quoting the former Prime Minister "partly to suit their convenience".
Mr Goyal immediately responded to Mr Kharge's remark, saying Vajpayee was agonised by communal riots during the Congress rule, be it in Maharashtra, Bhagalpur or Gujarat.
Ms Sitharaman also intervened, saying Vajpayee's quote (which Mr Kharge's quoted) ended with "he (the then chief minister Narendra Modi) is following raj dharma" and that Opposition members are quoting the former Prime Minister "partly".
Rajya Sabha Chairman asked both Mr Kharge and Ms Sitharaman to authenticate Vajpayee's quoted remark during the course of the day.
"Any observation made by him, if truncated... (and) if not given properly by this (ruling party) side or that (Opposition) side, it is the duty of the Chair to deal with the situation," he said....