Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is in the middle of a storm over his recent remarks in the UK on Indian democracy and Parliament, on Thursday said that if “Indian democracy was functioning”, he would be allowed to speak in the House on allegations that he insulted the country abroad.
At least four Union ministers have sought Gandhi’s apology over his remarks at an interaction at Cambridge University last week, when he said that Indian democracy was under attack and several politicians, including himself, were under surveillance.
“So, if Indian democracy was functioning, I would be able to say my piece in Parliament. So, actually what you are seeing is a test of Indian democracy. After four leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have made an allegation about a Member of Parliament, is the Member of Parliament going to be given the same space that those four ministers were given or is he going to be told to shut up?” Gandhi asked reporters after parliamentary proceedings were adjourned amid protests for the fourth consecutive day of the ongoing budget session.
The Wayanad MP did not get a chance to speak in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. “I went to Parliament this morning with the idea of putting (forward) what I have said or what I feel on the floor of the House. Four ministers have raised allegations against me in Parliament House, (and) it is my right to be allowed to speak on the floor of the House,” he said.
He met Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, and sought a chance to speak. He said Birla smiled at him but remained non-committal.
Gandhi alleged that the BJP’s protests against his remarks were about distraction and an attempt to prevent him from raising questions over American securities research firm Hindenburg Research’s report on fraud and stock manipulation by the Gautam Adani-led Adani Group. The conglomerate has denied the charges.
He alleged that the speeches of the ministers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (during rallies in Karnataka) are to distract from the “fundamental question” of the relationship between Modi and Adani .
He added that the “ fundamental question” was “what is the relationship between the Prime Minister of India and Mr Adani and his companies and more importantly, whose money is in the shell companies? Who is this unknown person, whose money is in the shell companies? What is his relationship with Mr Adani? These are the questions.” He went on to allege that the Adani group was given loans by State Bank of India, and contracts by foreign countries, thanks to its relationship with Mr Modi.
Gandhi had raised most of these allegations during a debate on the President’s speech on February 2. A large part of his speech was expunged.
“What is going on here – this story started the day I gave my speech in Parliament about Mr Adani. I asked some fundamental questions to the Prime Minister about his relationship with the businessman, about how Mr Adani has been given pretty much the entire India-Israel defence relationship?” Gandhi added.
Gandhi did not take any questions from the media and said he would like to first place his statement on the floor of the House.
He quipped that unfortunately, he was an MP but later, after party leader Jairam Ramesh prodded him, said: “Unfortunately, for you , I am a Member of Parliament”.
A section of the Congress claimed that given a chance, Gandhi would launch a counterattack on the government over its alleged links with the Adani Group.
The BJP, however, continued its attack on the Congress leader.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi said Gandhi has belittled India and that “the Opposition is making an attempt to divert attention because they know that his remarks in the UK were uncalled for.”
Joshi reiterated that Gandhi must apologise for his comments to Parliament and the Speaker.
In the Lok Sabha, commerce minister Piyush Goyal said: “The Member of the House who insulted the House of India abroad… until he apologises, responsibility should be assigned to all these (Opposition) leaders. If they don’t feel insulted and behave like this, then those who have brought the placards should be suspended.”
Former Union minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said Gandhi’s comments cannot become the “barometer” of the success or failure of democracy. He accused Gandhi of making it a habit of seeking to “derail and demean” Indian democracy from foreign soil.
Asked about the impact of Gandhi’s remarks, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “I don’t think this matter is in the area of foreign policy. This matter is also being raised in Parliament and it is better that I don’t comment on it. The effort from the government of India and the external affairs ministry is to share India’s image, foreign policy and perspectives with other countries so that we can take forward our interests and needs.”
Around 16 parties formed a human chain to protest against the government on Thursday morning before disrupting both Houses to demand a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on the Adani issue.