K. Balchand

NEW DELHI: The Congress, far from using the motion of thanks on the President's address to focus on the government's achievements, found itself at the receiving end in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

The Opposition parties were quick to pick holes in the remarks made by Inderjit Singh Rao (Congress) while moving the motion, much to the embarrassment of the treasury benches much as it touched the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.

While highlighting the UPA government's efforts at bringing about accountability in the bureaucracy, Mr. Rao dwelt on the psyche of officialdom. The officials were a breed of their own and they had their own perception of the Prime Minister, he said. “They think that the current Prime Minister will not remain in office in the next government,” Mr. Rao said and charged that they had swept the file under the carpet in the vain hope that the next incumbent would not be interested in the issue.

The Opposition benches had a laugh at the remark and thumped desks, wondering if he meant that someone else would take over as Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present. In an obvious bid to save the situation, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad sought to stop the member from dragging the Prime Minister into any such reference. But Mr. Rao just about lost his cool.

Not taking any hint from Opposition members that the issues he was raising had little to do with the speech of the President, Mr. Rao then commented on Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

“He is doing a better job now than even as Finance Minister,” Mr. Rao said stressing the proposal to regulate licensing to curb the rise in illegal arms across the country, what with, he claimed, just two per cent of the 40 million weapons possessed by people being legal.

That was yet another occasion for the Opposition, thumping the tables, to pull the member's leg with the remark he was speaking the truth about his own party leaders and members.

Mr. Rao was still not done with entertaining the Opposition at the cost of his own mistakes and his party. Touching upon poll reforms demanding state funding of elections, he expressed concern over “paid news” in the print and electronic media, and stressed the need to break the “nexus” between business houses and politicians so that moneyed people would not get undue advantage in elections.

The Opposition leaders recorded their appreciation of Mr. Rao for spilling the beans about how the Congress functioned.

The Congress benches apparently thought enough was enough and decided to put an end to Mr. Rao's distress and their own discomfiture. Party chief Sonia Gandhi, who had entered the House by then, gestured to him to cut his speech short. Other senior members too asked him to conclude forthwith.