NEW DELHI -- The Upper House saw raucous scenes and repeated adjournments today as the Opposition pressed for an immediate debate on the issue of religious conversion. Their demand for a response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi led to a deadlock, with the government insisting that Home Minister Rajnath Singh would address the issue - a stand unacceptable to the Opposition.
Finance Minister and Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said the government was ready for debate on any issue as he asked Opposition if it wanted "total ban on religious conversion or forced conversion", either of which was acceptable to the government.
The Opposition unitedly voiced concern over reports of conversion in Agra recently and wanted no less than the Prime Minister himself to assure the House and the country that such things would not be allowed. The House could not transact any business as it was adjourned repeatedly four times till 3 pm even though there was an agreement to hold an urgent discussion today.
Members from parties like Congress, Left and TMC said the issue was serious and only the Prime Minister should reply. They were in the Well shouting slogans. Deputy Chairman P J Kurein said he cannot ask the government which particular minister or the Prime Minister should reply.
He noted the Home Minister was sitting in the House and ready to reply. "Do you think he (Home Minister) is not competent to reply," Kurein asked the Opposition. Attacking the Opposition, Jaitley said it was only interested in distraction and not the debate. "In the morning they wanted suspension of agenda to discuss this issue, we agreed...some people only want to disrupt the House," he said. This led to a deadlock and the House was adjourned till 3 PM.
Meanwhile, uproar over a reported official directive to keep schools open on Christmas day and a demand for expeditious construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya led to turmoil in Lok Sabha, forcing an adjournment. Members of Congress and Left parties launched vociferous protests as Shiv Sena member Chandrakant Khaire demanded during Zero Hour expeditious construction of the temple. Khaire claimed it was assured during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister that this would be done when "there was an absolute majority".
"Now we have a majority... I demand that the temple be constructed within the tenure of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi," he said, as the opposition members protested strongly against Khaire's remarks. The Shiv Sena member said Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the Ayodhya dispute, "also wants the temple to be constructed" and there were "some Muslim women too, who met the Prime Minister and wanted the temple to be constructed."
As Speaker Sumitra Mahajan kept saying "the matter is before the courts", Khaire came in for support from members of BJP and Shiv Sena who thumped desks, even as Congress and Left members continued their protests. Soon thereafter, Congress member K C Venugopal raised the issue of the reported government directive of keeping schools open on Christmas Day to observe 'Good Governance Day' to mark the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on December 25.
Venugopal said schools have been asked to remain open on Christmas Day on the pretext of an essay competition. "Asking schools to remain open on Christmas is hurting the sentiments of the minorities. We are a secular democratic country. Is this good governance? Celebrating Vajpayee's birthday is good but Vajpayee would not approve this," he said. He was supported by party colleagues and Left members who shouted, "We want a clarification from the government."
AIADMK members were also on their feet demanding explanation from the government, as the House witnessed heated exchanges between members of the opposition and treasury benches. Congress and Left members then trooped into the Well and in the din, the Speaker adjourned the House for almost an hour.