New Delhi: The row over Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury referring to President Droupadi Murmu as “Rashtrapatni” Thursday led to a spat between party chief Sonia Gandhi and BJP MP and Union minister Smriti Irani in Parliament.
While the BJP has accused Gandhi of “threatening” a parliamentarian, the Congress has alleged that it was Irani who “heckled” the Congress chief.
The confrontation took place after the Lok Sabha was adjourned — with Irani demanding that Gandhi issue an apology over Chowdhury’s remark, and women BJP MPs continuing to shout “Sonia Gandhi, maafi maango (apologise)”.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman gave her account of the spat to reporters without naming Irani: “When Sonia Gandhi talked to our BJP MPs, one of our MPs came and said ‘what’s happening, what are you talking about…?’ To this, Gandhi almost reacted in a threatening tone by saying ‘you don’t talk to me’. What kind of way is it to talk to our MP in a threatening way?”
According to sources in the Congress, Gandhi, before leaving the House, walked over to talk to BJP MP Rama Devi, who is in the panel of presiding officers in the Lok Sabha. Two Congress MPs were with her.
Sources further said that Gandhi could be heard telling Rama Devi that “Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has already apologised. What is my fault?”
Hearing this, Irani allegedly interrupted the conversation. The Congress president initially ignored Irani, then turned around and told Irani “don’t talk to me”, the sources said, adding that the minister responded by saying: “How can you talk to me like this?”
Soon after this, the atmosphere tensed up, with BJP MP Nishikant Dubey and some others encircling the women MPs, while Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi sought to shield Gandhi. As heated arguments broke out, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi intervened to contain the situation, according to sources.
Many Congress leaders and opposition MPs took to Twitter and called it an “orchestrated attack” on Gandhi.
Congress leader Karti Chidambaram called the claims made by Sitharaman “false”.
The version of events as narrated by @nsitharaman is totally false from what actually happened in the Lok Sabha. She wasn't there,but I was. @BJP4India is manufacturing a controversy. https://t.co/cQu8m6FFIR
— Karti P Chidambaram (@KartiPC) July 28, 2022
Speaking to ThePrint, he said: “Parliament was adjourned around 12 (noon), after that Mrs Gandhi walked into the well of the House to talk to BJP leader and presiding officer Rama Devi. Mrs Gandhi wanted to talk about the Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury controversy and explain that it was in fact a slip of the tongue and that he has also accepted his mistake.”
He added that he “could see that Irani very aggressively gesticulated and started speaking”.
“Soon after, a few women Congress MPs encircled Mrs Gandhi. The entire version of Mrs Sitharaman that Mrs Gandhi spoke rudely and said ‘don’t talk to me’ to Irani is ridiculous. Mrs Gandhi is a soft-spoken person. Sitharaman’s version of the incident is far from the reality and in fact she was not even present when the incident took place,” he said.
Congress MPs plan to meet the Lok Sabha Speaker to complain against the BJP MPs and ministers who were reportedly present at the confrontation. Sources said they are likely to ask for the matter to be sent to the privilege committee and video footage of the incident to be released.
Recounting the spat
Recounting the incident, Congress MP Jyotsna Mahant said that, soon after the House got adjourned, Gandhi wanted to speak to the women MPs who were raising some slogans.
“Mrs Gandhi wanted to discuss the issue in a peaceful manner. We also went ahead with her and then Smriti Irani came and started saying objectionable things. Mrs Gandhi was insulted. She is so senior and one who should be respected. Had these BJP women leaders not shouted, we would not even have gone back (to talk to them),” Mahant said, adding that “the PM should apologise”.
Congress leader Gogoi pointed out that while Chowdhury had already apologised for the “Rashtrapatni” remark, “the way Sonia Gandhi was treated shows that the expectations they (BJP) have from us, they are unable to show it (the same courtesy) towards others”. He further said that Gandhi could have got hurt in the incident.
Congress MP Geeta Kora called it “a black spot in the history of Parliament”.
“What happened in the House today, the way such a senior woman MP was mistreated by the BJP, is a black spot in the history of Parliament. Mrs Gandhi went to speak to the BJP MPs and, not only the women MPs, but even the male MPs tried to heckle her. Smriti Irani said offensive things to Mrs Gandhi while pointing fingers at her. She could have got hurt, the way BJP leaders heckled her,” Kora said.
TMC leader Mahua Moitra also sought to defend Gandhi on Twitter.
Was in Lok Sabha when 75 year old lady senior leader encircled & heckled pack-wolf style when all she did was walk over & speak (masked) to another senior lady panel chairperson.
Disgusted to read BJP lies & false version in press.
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) July 28, 2022
Sitharaman, meanwhile, alleged to the media that “some of our Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha felt very threatened”.
“I didn’t imagine there will be a situation for me to say it — (our MPs) felt threatened that Shrimati Sonia Gandhi herself came up to… probably one of our very senior members Rama Devi ji… to find out… and one of our members approached them and she (Gandhi) said ‘you don’t talk to me’, as if putting the MP down, in the House! So instead of remorse from the highest leader of the Congress, we find greater and greater aggression,” she said.
Inputs from Shanker Arnimesh
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)