Wikileaks stall Parliament

NEW DELHI: The Wikileaks’ expose on the cash-for-votes issue paralysed proceedings in Parliament on Tuesday with Opposition demanding immediate discussion on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement on the matter.

The Rajya Sabha witnessed three adjournments and the Lok Sabha one as an aggressive Opposition insisted on taking up the debate straightaway notwithstanding government’s plea that Finance Bill be taken up first in the Lok Sabha.

Speaker Meira Kumar told Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj that her notice of Breach of Privilege against the Prime Minister was being examined by her.

This prompted Swaraj to press for discussion on the Prime Minister’s statement noting that she along with Sharad Yadav (JD-U) and Yashwant Sinha (BJP) have given notice for such a debate under Rule 193, which does not entail voting.

Leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee wanted the Finance Bill to be taken up first to ensure it being taken up early in the Rajya Sabha as per Constitutional requirement.

"I do not think heaven is going to fall if we take up the Finance Bill first. I assure you that we will have the discussion after the Finance Bill is passed. I am not making it a prestige issue," Mukherjee said.

In the Rajya Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley rose to say that he had given two notices – one on privilege motion against the Prime Minister and the other seeking a discussion under Rule 176, which does not entail voting.

Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan said Chairman Hamid Ansari was seized of the matter and a decision was yet to be taken on the two notices given by the Leader of the Opposition.

However, BJP members persisted that Jaitley should be allowed to speak.

In the meanwhile, Congress members began waving a weekly news magazine, which carried reports on alleged irregularities during the NDA regime when senior BJP leader Arun Shourie was the Disinvestment Minister.

Khan had a tough time in persuading Congress members to allow the LoP to speak. Though he repeatedly said the Leader of the Opposition should be allowed to speak as it is his privilege, the ruling side members were unrelenting and shouted "no, no".

Khan then adjourned the House for 15 minutes.

As Swaraj tried to raise an issue in the Lok Sabha, Jagdambika Pal (Cong) raised a point of order claiming the Leader of the Opposition had already publicised her intention to move a Privilege Motion, which was against the rules.

Speaker Meira Kumar said she would look into the matter before giving her ruling on the notice for Privilege Motion against the Prime Minister.

Taking exception to interruptions during Swaraj’s intervention, senior BJP leader L K Advani said that in the history of Parliament, the House could not run for the entire session because the Leader of the Opposition was not allowed to speak. "The same thing is being repeated today," he said.

Advani sought protection from the Speaker to the Leader of the Opposition and pleaded that she be allowed to speak whenever she wanted to.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the Government gave utmost importance to the office of the Leader of the Opposition.

"But it was quite disappointing that because of some perceived feeling that she was not allowed to speak….the House was not allowed to function," he said.

He regretted that it was the experience of the treasury benches that after intervention by the opposition leader, their members are asked to rush to the well and the Government is not given the opportunity to have its say.

Bansal said that if Advani’s statement is to be believed then it meant that the entire winter session was washed out due to some interruptions in the interventions of the Leader of the Opposition. It is only on that ego, he said, adding, "To accuse us of that will not be fair."

Swaraj then raised the issue of short duration discussion on Prime Minister’s statement on the WikiLeaks issue assuring the government that if the debate is taken up immediately, the Opposition will help in the passage of the Finance Bill.

"We do not want to create a Constitutional crisis," she said and was immediately supported by Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI).

Bansal said he was grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for assuring support to the government for getting the Finance Bill passed.

He appealed to the House to take up the Finance Bill first and then immediately the short duration discussion.

He also cited rules to say that the Speaker is not duty bound to allow a discussion on the issue soon after a notice on the matter is received.

Sharad Yadav and Yashwant Sinha wanted the House to first take up the short duration discussion on Prime Minister’s reply on WikiLeaks.

"Do not get into technicalities. Do not have a rigid approach. Have a practical approach," Sinha said.

When the House met at 12:30 pm, P C Chacko, who was in the Chair, took up discussion on the Finance Bill prompting Swaraj to lead a Opposition walkout.(PTI)

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