Chidambaram in eye of parliament storm, UPA faces winter heat

New Delhi : Parliament got off to a stormy start Tuesday with opposition protests against Home Minister P. Chidambaram forcing the adjournment of the Lok Sabha and bringing back memories of the 2010 winter session which was a complete washout.

The lower house, which adjourned for the day without transacting any business, was plunged into chaos soon after the session began as opposition MPs disregarded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s appeal for calm.

Their target was Chidambaram, for his alleged links to the 2G spectrum scandal when he was finance minister 2004-08.

He was prevented from speaking in the Lok Sabha over the same issue that stalled last year’s winter session when no business could be taken up during the month-long sitting.

As members assembled in the morning, Speaker Meira Kumar made obituary references to ex-members. Newly-elected member Kuldeep Bishnoi of the Haryana Janhit Congress was also sworn in.

But when she called the question hour, opposition members were on their feet, raising various issues.

The first question of the day was to be answered by Chidambaram. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had vowed to boycott him and prevent him from speaking in the house.

As the home minister got up to table the written reply to the question on Maoist violence, BJP members in unison shouted him down. He sat back silently, without reacting to the opposition’s cacophony.

The BJP-led combine wants Manmohan Singh to sack Chidambaram.

Earlier, Manmohan Singh appealed for peace to allow parliament to function and debate key bills, including the anti-graft Lokpal bill.

“I sincerely hope that all political parties will realise we have some very important pieces of legislation… Our country’s sustained development and prosperity demand that many of those bills should be converted as acts of parliament,” Manmohan Singh told reporters.

He backed Chidambaram saying: “There is virtually no case for a boycott of the type that has been talked about in the newspapers.”

Chidambaram, on his part, refused a comment on the opposition strategy and silently walked out of parliament house when journalists sought his reaction.

Defending the boycott, BJP leaders said they would not allow him to speak till he steps down. “We are demanding his resignation. We will continue to boycott him,” the BJP’s M. Venkaiah Naidu told reporters.

He denied it was a personal attack on Chidambaram and recalled that the Congress had boycotted then defence minister George Fernandes for his alleged role in the coffin scam in 2002.

The Congress said the BJP was indulging in a “witch hunt” and condemned “the utterly irresponsible behaviour” of the opposition.

“Can the opposition say tomorrow that because they don’t agree with the government, so unless it resigns they won’t allow parliament to function,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi asked reporters in Chennai.

Chidambaram, however, got a reprieve from the Left parties. Communist leaders refused to rub shoulders with the BJP on the personal attack on the home minister.

“We believe in investigations. Whether it is Chidambaram or others. We do not believe in a personal boycott,” said Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury.

Gurdas Dasgupta of the CPI said: “We are not for the boycott of any minister.”

Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal regretted the opposition protests, saying they were not allowing discussions on crucial issues like the price rise.

“(Finance Minister) Pranab Mukherjee had given notice for a statement (on inflation) today. The opposition should allow a discussion, not block a discussion,” Bansal said.

Chidambaram’s was not the only issue that rocked the Lok Sabha. The proposed division of Uttar Pradesh, the demand for Telangana and the issue of price rise were also taken up by opposition MPs.

Amid the ruckus, the Lok Sabha was adjourned till 12 noon and then, as the din continued, for the entire day.

The Rajya Sabha was adjourned to mourn the death of two members, Ram Dayal Munda and Silvius Condpan.

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