New Delhi: Rajya Sabha witnessed heated exchanges between the treasury and opposition benches after Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge made remarks on the manner in which political parties select women candidates from weaker sections and raised the issue of "delayed" GST payments to non-BJP ruled states.
Addressing the Upper House at its first sitting in the new Parliament building, during which Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present, Kharge, who is the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, referred to the Women Reservation Bill which was passed in 2010 in the House. His comments that all political parties only give tickets to those women from backward classes who cannot assert themselves evoked sharp reactions from the treasury benches.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the "sweeping statement" of Kharge that all parties do not choose effective women candidates is "absolutely unacceptable". "I speak on behalf of all our women. We all have been empowered by our party, by our Hon'ble Prime Minister. Hon'ble Rashrapati Droupadi Murmu ji is an empowered woman. Every (female) MP of my party is an empowered woman," she added.
Sitharaman stressed that the opposition leader cannot insult people like this. To this, Kharge, who is president of the Congress party, said: "Women belonging to backward classes, scheduled caste women do not get the kind the opportunities she (Sitharaman) gets". Sitharaman again objected and asked, "Who is Droupadi Murmu? Opposition leader cannot insult people like this, cannot draw a differentiation between women... We are asking for reservation for all women".
After the intervention of Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar, House proceedings continued. Kharge said he welcomes the women's reservation bill titled Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam. Later Kharge referred to the remarks made by Prime Minister Modi regarding federal structure and competitive federalism in the country and alleged, "Federal structure is being weakened under your leadership day-by-day".
This statement was vociferously objected to by BJP members. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said the prime minister's speech was totally "apolitical", unbiased and balanced, and urged Kharge to speak in the House like a "statesman". The senior Congress leader accused the central government of engineering the fall of governments led by opposition parties in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
This remark too was vehemently objected to by the ruling party MPs. Kharge also accused the central government of delaying GST dues to the non-BJP state governments and also grants for welfare schemes like MNREGA. However, Finance Minister Sitharaman challenged the statement regarding the payments of dues.
"A factually incorrect statement has been made by the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) wherein he's saying that GST revenue is not given to the states on time. This is absolutely wrong," she said. The minister also told the House that her ministry even borrowed money and paid to the states. "Three times we have paid the money in advance. There is no money pending for any state in GST and there is no delay in payment to the states. It is wrong on the part of the LoP to blame like this," Sitharaman added.
Chairman Dhankhar asked both the finance minister and Leader of the Opposition to table documents in supporting their remarks on the table of the House during the course of the day. Kharge's remarks that the prime minister can speak for 2-3 hours but will not say anything on the Manipur situation also evoked a sharp reaction from the BJP members.
Dhankhar said that he was ready for a discussion on the Manipur issue in the House but it could not take place because of objections by opposition members. The House proceedings were adjourned till Wednesday morning after Kharge's speech. (PTI)