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11 February, 2018 11:32:43 AM

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The deadly laughter

That Prime Minister Narendra Modi was taking a jibe and casting aspersions on Renuka Chowdhury did not escape anyone’s attention
KUMKUM CHADHA
The deadly laughter

The Parliament session that concluded this week was high on acrimony and low on content. There were ugly scenes between the ruling party and the Opposition benches throwing smooth functioning to the winds.

With personal remarks flying free, Parliament discourse reached an all time low.  For starters there was a spat between Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury and the ruling party during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reply to the President’s Motion of Thanks in the Upper House. Even when the Chair admonished Chowdhury, there was a kind of an uproar and the Opposition parties rose to their feet in Chowdhury’s defence. Without being explicit, Modi compared Chowdhury to a demon.
This is how it panned out. The Prime Minister, during his response to the debate, spoke at length about his government’s scheme. When he referred to the Aadhar card and claimed that the idea of an all purpose national ID was mooted by L.K.Advani in 1998  when he was Union Home Minister, Chowdhury burst into a loud laugh. Clearly, Chowdhury was mocking at Modi’s claim. This drew disproval from  Chairman  Venkaiah Naidu who admonished Chowdhury. At this point Modi  asked the Chair not to restrain the errant MP. This is what Modi said: “It is for the first time after the Ramayana serial that we are having the good fortune of hearing such laughter today,” Modi had said: “I pray do not say anything to her” Modi told the Chairman.

 Even while Modi did not name Surpanakha, a negative character in the tele-serial  Ramayana, that the Prime Minister was taking a jibe and  casting aspersions on Chowdhury did not escape anyone’s attention.

As if to add fuel to fire, Union Minister Kiran Rijiju tweeted  a video clip from the 1980s series "Ramayana", in which the mythical character Surpanakha, the evil sister of demon king Ravana, cackles loudly. Later in the video was a clip from the Rajya Sabha, when PM Modi took a dig at Ms Chowdhury for laughing loudly in the middle of his speech. Even without being explicit Rijiju said everything. Chowdhury has now moved a privilege motion against him and is contemplating action under the rules for what happened in the House that day.

The incident has not gone down well among the Opposition who feel that the Prime Minister made a sexist and derogatory remark against a woman member. The Congress has also come out in support of Chowdhury and demanded an apology from the Prime Minister.

That Chowdhury is volatile and has often landed in controversy is a given but that does not take away from what Modi indicated even without spelling it out in so many words. To reduce a colleague, even from an adversary party, to being evil or demon-like is not only hitting below the belt but lowering the level of debate in the temple of democracy. Having said that this does not justify an MP jeering while the Prime Minister is speaking.

Even during the Prime Minister’s speech in the Lok Sabha

a  belligerent Opposition was hellbent on disrupting his speech and it was perhaps for the first time in the history of the Parliament, that the Prime Minister delivered his entire speech amid slogans and disruptions. When he spoke in the Lok Sabha he spoke in the din.

Modi on his part was aggressive taking on the Congress and singled out the Gandhi family for attack. He spoke about its misrule and the subservience of the entire party to one family:

 “You wasted all your time singing paeans to one family. You forgot India’s history and you put all your energy to ensure that the country remembered only one family… if you had worked with some responsibility, the people of this country were capable enough of taking India to new heights,” Modi told Congressmen, adding that if the right direction had been kept and right policies followed, the country would have gone way ahead of where it is now.

In the Rajya Sabha, however he was comparatively mild and spoke more about the government than he did about the congress.

The BJP strategy was clear: in the Lok Sabha the PM was wooing an electorate using Parliament as a via media while in the Rajya Sabha he was addressing MPs. In Lok Sabha he spoke as a campaigner; in Rajya Sabha as an MP. However nowhere he did speak as Prime Minister of a country that is India. On that he fell terribly short.

The Congress, on the other hand, was found waffling. It had neither applied its mind nor had a plan in place except to be part of the shouting brigade. Even on that it raised decible levels when its tone should have been lower and vice versa. For instance, when the PM spoke about Bofors in the Rajya Sabha the Congress did not even protest: “I also went to Davos, you also went to Davos. But the difference is you went with a letter to save someone”. Modi was referring to the letter senior Congress leader Madhavsinh Solanki had carried for the Swedish Government when he was External Affairs Minister.

Solanki had admitted to delivering a letter to the Swiss Foreign Minister, asking Switzerland to delay the   investigations into reported kickbacks in the purchase of artillery guns from Sweden in 1986.

Strangely, unlike the Lok Sabha, in the Rajya Sabha, the Prime Minister was allowed speak to a muted Opposition that despite its numbers hardly ever interrupted him. The only spoke in the wheel was the Renuka episode.

However much the Congress may want to paint the BJP black on this, the fact remains that opinion is divided on whether Renuka was right in doing what she did. There is a view that she violated a code of conduct by her laughter which was not as innocent as it is being made out to be. It is not a simple case of a “woman laughing” but an MP mocking at the PM. The argument that codes are routinely violated and MPs cross the line more than they should, does not cut much ice because two wrongs, as they say, do not make a right. In the case of Modi he comes across as Ceasar’s wife being above suspicion because he did not cast an aspersion on Renuka except to ask the Chair not to check her. The fact that he was referring to Ramayan’s evil character is a matter of interpretation and not something he explicitly said.

The fact of the matter is that the Congress seems ill prepared to take on the BJP on issues. By simply criticizing the ruling party is not going to get them anywhere.  They need to have a strategy to take on the BJP. To say that they are villains is not enough. It needs to take concrete steps to match BJP prowess and tell the people that it has the grit to uproot the BJP and is well prepared to do so.

The BJP may be bad and the PM may be getting away by selling dreams to the people of India but that is more the Opposition failure than the success of the BJP.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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