Monsoon session begins on a stormy note despite PM’s plea

The monsoon session of Parliament started on Monday on a stormy note with opposition members rushing to the well in both Houses to protest against spiralling fuel prices and various other issues. The opposition protest prevented Prime Minister Narendra Modi from verbally introducing his newly-appointed ministers.

Modi submitted the list of new ministers in both Houses and hit back at the opposition, accusing it of being unable to “digest” the fact that “a large number of new ministers are women, Dalits, tribals and those from other backward classes”. “What is this mentality?” the prime minister asked, saying this was the first time that he had faced such a situation in the House.

Jairam Ramesh, the chief whip of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, countered by pointing out that “in 2004, the Bharatiya Janata Party, then in opposition, had not allowed then prime minister Manmohan Singh to introduce his ministers”.

MPs of the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal and some other parties had rushed to the well of the Houses with placards to shout slogans against the rising price of fuel and demand a reduction in the tax on petro products.

Some Telugu Desam Party MPs joined the protests to demand special status for Andhra Pradesh, while the Trinamool Congress raised the issue of both price rise and atrocities on Dalits.

The opposition has called a meeting at 10am on Tuesday to decide on when to raise the Pegasus snooping issue as the government has accepted its demand to discuss the covid situation in the House. “We have to see what parties say on prioritizing the covid debate over other issues,” said a Congress leader. Trinamool’s Lok Sabha floor leader Sudip Bandyopadhay, however, said the party will raise the snooping scandal in the House on Tuesday.

In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury prevented the prime minister from speaking and said his party has given notices to discuss issues, including the economy and rising prices. As other leaders rushed to the well, Akali leaders Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Sukhbir Badal also came down to the well, demanding a repeal of the three farm laws enacted last year.

Speaker Om Birla appealed for peace. “You have been in power too. You should not lower the dignity of the House. You are breaking a good tradition. This is the largest democracy and you are setting a bad precedent,” he said. However, the protesting MPs did not relent.

In the Rajya Sabha, chairman Venkaiah Naidu urged MPs to rise above political considerations and make effective use of the session for tackling the anticipated third covid wave based on the experiences so far. MPs cannot “afford to let the people down in their hour of pain and suffering”, he said.

“Let us be conscious of the immense responsibility cast upon all of us…We all are on test and I hope we acquit ourselves creditably by ensuring a productive monsoon session,” he said in his opening remarks of the session.

Leader of the Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal tried to remind the opposition about the tradition of introducing new ministers since the time of the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Meanwhile, Union minister for electronics and information technology (MeitY) Ashwini Vaishnaw on Monday said that reports suggesting India’s use of Israeli spyware Pegasus to infiltrate phones of journalists, activists, opposition leaders and ministers were nothing but an “attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”. Union home minister Amit Shah criticized those “amplifying” the reports for “humiliating India”.

Vaishnaw, who was making his first speech as the MeitY minister in Parliament, said that the “highly sensational story” has made several “over the top allegations” but there is “no substance” in them. His statement came barely minutes before he was named as one of the ministers that had been targeted, according an investigation by a consortium of media houses that said a phone hacking software known as Pegasus was used to target potentially thousands of people around the world.

“It isn’t a coincidence the reports have been published a day before the monsoon session,” Vaishnaw said.

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