BJP leader LK Advani went on the back foot in the Lok Sabha yesterday when an aggressive Congress president Sonia Gandhi spurred her MPs into a combative mood after he questioned the legitimacy of the UPA government.
Advani was initiating a debate over the Assam violence on the opening day of the monsoon session of parliament when he called the UPA government as “illegitimate”.
It was enough to infuriate Gandhi, who exhibited a never-before-seen aggression inside the house, asking Advani to withdraw his remark.
Gandhi, who has led the UPA for the last eight years, took the reins in her hands, as it was the first day for Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde as leader of the house. She took on Advani.
The BJP leader’s clarification that he had referred to the 2008 confidence vote over the India-US nuclear deal when the cash-for-vote episode was played out did not pacify the Congress chief.
She kept loudly saying “no, no”, insisting that he withdraw his remarks. She also egged her party and UPA colleague, leading to a shouting match. Speaker Meira Kumar had to adjourn the house for an hour.
Shinde addressed Advani as “a senior respected leader” and asked him to consider if his remarks were acceptable. With Advani not relenting, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal raised a point of order over the BJP leader digressing from the subject of his adjournment motion.
BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition, came to Advani’s defence saying he was speaking on the failure of the UPA government and he had a right to refer to the 2008 confidence vote.
Amid pandemonium, Advani rose to clarify that he was not referring to the 2009 general election, which the UPA won, but to the 2008 confidence vote. He also relented to withdraw his remark.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was silent in the house, said later that Advani’s comments were “disgraceful and unfortunate”.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi refused to comment on Advani. “He is a senior person, he knows what he is saying, won’t like to comment.”
While Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari later said, “Making such comments to score political brownie points, I don’t think it suits a senior politician like him.”
Tewari also defended Sonia Gandhi’s aggression. “Soniaji is leading the oldest party of India for the last 12 years. She knows very well when to intervene and when not to. When a senior BJP leader says that the government is illegitimate, then anyone who believes in democracy should condemn it,” he added.