Political row over ‘rashtrapatni’ remark reverberates inside, outside Parliament
New Delhi: Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to President Droupadi Murmu on Friday and apologised to her for his “rashtrapatni” remark after the political storm over it escalated.
The Congress also upped the ante on Smriti Irani over the alleged heckling of Sonia Gandhi by her and BJP MPs and organised protests inside and outside Parliament and demanded that she be sacked for her behaviour.
As both the “rashtrapatni” remark and Sonia-Smriti face-off issues reverberated, the opposition and the ruling party traded charges against each other.
In his written apology to President Murmu, Chowdhury said it was a slip of the tongue and he used the word mistakenly.
“I am writing to express my regret for having mistakenly used an incorrect word to describe the position you hold. I assure you that it was a slip of the tongue. I apologise and request you to accept the same,” Chowdhury wrote to the President.
Chowdhury’s apology has set the tone for defusing the situation and sources said as per broad understanding with the opposition, Lok Sabha is likely to take up a discussion on price rise on Monday and Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. The last week has seen disruptions by the opposition over the issue.
Both houses of Parliament were stalled on Friday after uproar by opposition members against Gandhi’s alleged heckling, even as treasury benches continued to demand an apology from the Congress chief over Chowdhury’s remark.
The opposition MPs also protested outside Gandhi statue in Parliament complex and raised slogans against the government, demanding the sacking of Union minister Smriti Irani from the union cabinet. They also shared the remarks of Irani made in the Lok Sabha alleging she showed disrespect to the President of India.
They were joined by their colleagues from the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), among others.
Both the houses failed to transact any business on Friday.
In Rajya Sabha, while opposition MPs stormed the well demanding action against Irani and on Gujarat deaths due to illicit liquor, the ruling party members were on their feet demanding an apology from Chowdhury.
Congress members in Lok Sabha were in the Well of the House raising slogans against the government, while BJP members and union ministers, including Sarbananda Sonowal were on their feet demanding an apology from Gandhi.
Leader in Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge also wrote to Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu urging him to expunge the remarks made by union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal on Gandhi in the house on Thursday.
Both Sitharaman and Goyal had demanded an apology from Gandhi over Chowdhury’s ‘rashtrapatni’ remark, alleging that they have insulted the President of India.
Kharge said according to parliamentary practices and conventions, critical remarks should not be made on the other House or members of the other House.
He also cited a ruling made by former RS Chairman R Venkataraman on April 15, 1987, wherein no person who is not a member of the House can be referred to in the House in a derogatory manner.
The senior Congress leader said even the question of privilege cannot be raised directly in one house against members of the other House.
“I request you to kindly expunge the remarks made by Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal vis-a-vis Sonia Gandhi in the House yesterday, 28 July, 2022. I also request that they tender their apology for their violation of sacrosanct conventions of the House,” Kharge said in his letter to the Chairman.
Some opposition leaders including SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav and Jaya Bachchan also came out in support of Sonia Gandhi over the behaviour meted out to her. Other opposition MPs — NCP’s Supriya Sule, TMC’s Mahua Moitra and Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi — have already extended their support to Gandhi.
The Congress MPs earlier met in the Parliament complex and decided on their strategy at a meeting of Congress Parliamentary Party chaired by Gandhi, after which they caused disruptions in both houses of Parliament.
The party has already complained against Irani to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla with a demand that the matter be referred to the privileges committee for action against her.
Amid the row, Congress leader Manish Tewari said anyone occupying a constitutional office is equally honourable and there is no point in “getting lost in the maze of gender”.
“Lady or gentleman, anyone occupying a constitutional office is equally Hon’ble. Respect has to be given & should be accorded to that institution. Any person on a particular position becomes analogous to or with that office. No point in getting lost in the maze of gender,” he said.
BJP ministers Prahlad Joshi and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said Chowdhury and Gandhi would have to apologise as the remark was objectionable and hurt people’s sentiments. BJP MP Nishikant Dwivedi said Lok Sabha will only function after Gandhi apologises.
The row erupted with Chowdhury calling President Droupadi Murmu “rashtrapatni” and the Congress accusing BJP MPs of subjecting its chief to “brutal heckling, verbal assault and physical intimidation” in the Lok Sabha.
As Lok Sabha adjourned after 12 on Thursday, Gandhi walked across to BJP member Rama Devi asking why she was being dragged into the issue.
Irani intervened and was seen gesturing towards Gandhi and apparently protesting against Chowdhury’s remark. Gandhi tried to ignore Irani’s protestations, but was soon seen gesturing towards the minister and speaking angrily.