The Rajya Sabha on Friday witnessed a combative Prime Minister Manmohan Singh exchange sharp words with Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley over frequent disruption of Parliament, which, he said, was hurting investor confidence.
Dr. Singh went on the offensive while responding to concerns raised by Opposition members on the depreciation of the rupee. “Building consensus was the responsibility of both the government and the principal Opposition party,” he said.
“You have never reconciled to the fact that you were voted out of power in 2004,” Dr. Singh told the BJP. “Have you ever heard of a situation when the PM is not allowed to introduce his Council of Ministers? Have you ever heard of a situation when Opposition members walk into the well shouting “PM **** hai. The things that were said ….”
The word the Prime Minister used to describe a thief was later expunged from the record by the Chairman.
Mr. Jaitley shot back: “Have you ever heard of a democracy where a Prime Minister wins a vote of confidence by *****?”
The words he used to refer to the July 2008 trust vote sought by the Prime Minister in the wake of the Left parties withdrawing support on the India-U.S. nuclear deal were also later expunged from the record.
As members watched the exchange in silence, Mani Shankar Aiyar (Congress) protested against Mr. Jaitley’s comment. Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien, who was in the Chair, said, “Economics is always coupled with politics. Let the Prime Minister speak.”
Dr. Singh’s charge that the Opposition was not allowing Parliament to function “session after session” brought the entire BJP on its feet. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram asked them not to interrupt the Prime Minister.
At this, Mr. Jaitley got up and said, “PM is entitled to respect but we want to know how he will revive the economy, not hear alibis for failure.” Earlier, he said the Prime Minister’s track record was of populist policies, not reforms.
“I’m not the custodian of files of Coal Ministry”
Saying that the conduct of parliamentarians was important to influence investor sentiment, Dr. Singh said, “I do recognise there is a problem. But it can be resolved if the Opposition recognises its responsibility. It cannot be done unilaterally. It takes two to clap.
”Referring to Mr. Jaitley’s remarks that corruption in the government was a major factor in the economic slide, Dr. Singh said the “corruption episodes” could not be incidents for House disruption. When V. Maitreyan (AIADMK) referred to the missing coal files, the Prime Minister said, “I am not the custodian of the files of the Ministry of Coal.”
He appealed to the Leader of the Opposition and the House to recognise the collective responsibility for the country to be seen as a “bankable and credit-worthy destination.”
On JD(U) member N.K. Singh’s reference to his coming visit to the U.S. for the G-20 meeting, Dr. Singh said he commanded a certain respect and stature in the Group. “I had been raising and will again raise the point that in this inter-dependent world the monetary policy of the developed countries affects developing countries.” He assured Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) and Satish Mishra (BSP) that the country would not slip into the 1991 situation as “our fundamentals are strong” and that FDI was not affected.
To Ramgopal Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Dr. Singh said, “We have the ambition, means and the will power to put the economy back to 6 to 8 per cent growth rate in two to three years.”
Sharing CPI leader D. Raja’s concern on inflation, he said some rise in prices was inevitable as the government had corrected the terms of trade in agriculture. “The rise in onion prices is seasonal. A good monsoon this year will allow us to deal with inflation.”
Earlier, in a statement made in both Houses, Dr. Singh said global factors such as tensions over Syria and the prospect of the U.S. Federal Reserve tapering its policy of quantitative easing caused general weakness in emerging market currencies. The rupee had been especially hit because of India’s large current account deficit and some other domestic factors. “We intend to act to reduce the current account deficit and bring about an improvement in the economy.”