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Parliament stalled over Antulay issue
Published on 23 Dec. 2008 1:37 AM IST
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An unrelenting opposition paralysed the functioning of both houses of parliament Monday over Minority Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay’s controversial remarks on the death of a top police official during the Mumbai terror attacks. It clamoured for his resignation but the government failed to make a statement on it. A visibly embarrassed Congress did not put up any defence for the embattled minister in either house for his controversial remarks. Participating in a Lok Sabha debate last week, Antulay hinted that Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare’s death early Nov 27 morning while combating t errorists could be linked to the Sep 29 Malegaon bombing he was investigating and in which members of Hindu radical groups are the main suspects. “There is no need to jump in (to defend the minister) as the leader of the house (Lok Sabha, Pranab Mukherjee) has already stated that the government will make a statement in the house on the issue,” Madhusudan Mistry, Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha, told IANS. “The house is for debate. They (Bharatiya Janata Party - BJP) are poor in intellectual debate,” Mistry said. As soon as Zero Hour began in the Lok Sabha, BJP and Shiv Sena members were on their feet and entered the well raising slogans against Antulay and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. This forced Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to adjourn the house. It was almost an action replay when the house convened again nearly an hour later. The house sitting was suspended thrice before it was finally adjourned for the day. Similar scenes were played out in the Rajya Sabha as the BJP and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) members disrupted proceedings throughout over Antulay’s remarks and the insurance bill respectively. As the upper house of parliament convened at 3 p.m. after its fourth adjournment of the day, opposition MPs were insistent that the government respond to Antulay’s remarks, leaving Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan, who was presiding over the sitting, with no option but to adjourn the house. The government, on its part, almost completed its legislative business in the Lok Sabha. It introduced a bill to amend the Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956, passed supplementary demands for grants (Railways) without discussion, and moved five other bills. Earlier, the Left parties in the Lok Sabha sought a vote on the insurance bill among those members present in the house. Even with the chaos persisting, voting was carried out. While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) MPs refused to cast their vote, 106 members voted for tabling the bill in the house while 39 members opposed it. Congress party insiders told IANS that the Antulay issue was a “major embarrassment” and the government was still working out a strategy to counter the opposition’s protests for his removal. “The problem here is that some of the UPA constituents and even Congress leaders are supporting his position.” That makes both the government’s and the party’s task all that much tougher to act on him (Antulay),” said a top party functionary. Antulay, who has been attending parliament ever since the controversy broke, did not seem unduly ruffled by the political hullabaloo. “How can an Indian say that Karkare was not killed by a terrorist? In my constituency there are only nine percent Muslims,” said Antulay, trying to explain that he was not trying to woo the minority community by his remarks. “I will seek the permission of the speaker and the leader of the house to make a statement first.” Deputy Speaker Charanjeet Singh Atwal allowed BJP leader Santosh Gangwar to speak before allowing the treasury benches to pass the bills. “The murder of Karkare is being utilised for political motive,” Gangwar alleged. BJP spokesman Syed Shahnawaz Hussain in a press conference reiterated that Antulay’s remarks saved Pakistan from the international embarrassment.

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