Why was President Murmu silent on inflation, Manipur, minorities, asks Kharge

Political reference from the chair ‘unprecedented and deeply shocking’, says Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge (photo: PTI)
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge (photo: PTI)

NH Political Bureau

The President cannot let the government off the hook by choosing instead to advise the Opposition to rise above partisan politics, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said in his initial reaction to Droupadi Murmu’s address to the joint houses of Parliament on Thursday, 27 June.

Pointing out that in the past five years there were at least 12 cases of paper leaks in the 66 entrance tests conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA), which impacted 75 lakh examinees, the Congress president accused the government of shirking its responsibility. Pointing fingers at the Opposition for allegedly ‘politicising’ the issue does not absolve the government, he said.

The Congress president also voiced his disappointment at President Murmu’s address, which made no mention of runaway food inflation or the continuing strife in Manipur or the growing mob attacks and state action against minorities.

Manipur has seen an exponential rise in incidents of extortion and abduction, but the government, which prepared the President’s address, seems oblivious to the situation. Kharge also expressed concern at the increasing incidence of violent attacks on Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis in BJP-ruled states, which too the President’s address did not mention.

Instead both the President and the speaker chose to be mouthpieces of the government’s planned offensive against the Congress over the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi’s government back in 1975. Murmu called it “the biggest and darkest chapter of direct attack on the Constitution”. Speaker Om Birla had already done his bit yesterday (26 June), calling out of the blue for a two-minute silence in the Lok Sabha. Following Birla’s little cameo, BJP MPs, armed with placards, protested against the Emergency outside Parliament.

Leader of the Opposition Rahul Gandhi, who called on the Speaker this afternoon, has maintained a dignified silence on the matter in public, but sources claim he did bring up the issue during his courtesy call on Birla. Gandhi, these sources say, expressed his reservations about the resolution read out by the chair and the call for a two-minute silence, which he apparently said were unnecessary and avoidable, since taking up the political agenda of the BJP compromises the Speaker’s expected neutrality.

While the Opposition had no official information about the resolution, it was quite evidently orchestrated, given the placards and protest paraphernalia. The resolution, one opposition leader said, may as well have been moved by the prime minister or home minister, then, without dragging the Speaker into it.

Newly (re-)elected speaker Om Birla, however, has been courting controversy on his own steam. Videos have surfaced on social media showing an irritated speaker questioning Congress MP Shashi Tharoor for raising the slogan “Jai Samvidhan (Long live the Constitution)” after taking his oath. The speaker quipped that since he had already taken oath to uphold the Constitution, there was no need for the slogan.

When five-term Congress MP Deepender Hooda interjected to exclaim that the chair could not possibly object to the slogan, the speaker rudely asked him to sit down and cease advising the chair.

Other opposition MPs expressed their surprise and said the speaker did not seem to have any trouble earlier when a BJP MP raised the slogan “Jai Hindu Rashtra” after taking his oath.

While opposition leaders have exercised restraint in the face of provocation and refrained from making public comments on the speaker and the Presidential address, except in the most anodyne terms, Congress general secretary and MP K.C. Venugopal released a copy of his letter to the Lok Sabha speaker.

Drawing the speaker’s attention to his reference to the Emergency of ‘half a century ago’, he wrote that such a political reference from the chair was ‘unprecedented and deeply shocking’. It was also a travesty of parliamentary traditions, he added.

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