Minister's remarks at rally rock Parliament

Niranjan Jyoti's apology fails to impress Opposition

Minister's remarks at rally rock Parliament

The government on Tuesday faced a major logjam in the Rajya Sabha that threatened its ambitious legislative agenda in Parliament's winter session following controversial remarks by Union Minister of State for Food Processing Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti.

Her remarks were made at a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally here on December 1. She asked Delhi voters to choose between Lord Ram’s heirs and those who did not believe in him. The issue rocked Parliament on Tuesday.

As the united Opposition firmly insisted on her sacking despite her apology, the Rajya Sabha remained paralysed for the day. Uproarious scenes were also witnessed in the Lok Sabha.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu tried to mollify agitated Opposition members, saying that the minister’s comments were unacceptable.

An upset Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed her to apologise in the two Houses.

However, a furious Opposition was in no mood to let go of the opportunity to corner the prime minister, particularly in the Rajya Sabha where the government is in a minority.

Jyoti, who was sworn in only last month, said in both Houses: “It was not my intention to offend anybody. I express regret from my heart and withdraw my words."

At the BJP parliamentary party meeting held on Tuesday, Modi condemned her remarks and asked his party MPs to avoid making such statements. The Opposition parties said an apology “is not enough.” They urged Modi to remove his minister and frame criminal charges against her.
“We have made it absolutely clear. We cannot accept the situation where the minister lowers the dignity of the government,” said Congress member Anand Sharma.

Communist Party of India-Marxists leader Sitaram Yechury accused Jyoti of breaking the law by committing offence under Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code, “which is creating a communal divide among different groups."
He also said: “She has committed an offence. And till an investigation is over, she can't remain a minister. Her apology is an admission of her crime.”

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati said the minister's remarks were against the secular ethos espoused by the Constitution and “do not behold a person occupying a constitutional post. Sack her."

Both Jaitley, who is also the leader of Upper House, and Naidu termed the comments from the minister unacceptable and requested the Opposition parties to put an end the issue as she had apologised.

Jaitley, who is also Leader of the Rajya Sabha, said the House “cannot decide” whether her action was criminal in nature and it should be left for agencies outside the House.

Keeping up the pressure, the Opposition leaders seemed to realise that Modi could not act against Jyoti as she “is seen as an OBC (other backward classes) face “ who helped the ruling BJP make inroads into dalit and backward classes in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. Assembly elections are due in that state in 2017.

Jyoti belongs to the Nishad community. She is among the six MPs drafted into the BJP's campaigning for Delhi elections. As soon as the Lok Sabha met for the day, Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Congress, took up the issue with Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.

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