Rajnath, Mohammad Salim face-off rocks Lok Sabha

The Opposition-sponsored debate on intolerance was dominated by a face-off between Rajnath Singh and Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Mohammad Salim in the Lok Sabha on Monday over certain controversial remarks (now expunged) that Mr. Salim attributed to the Home Minister.

Initiating the debate on intolerance, Mr. Salim was making a broader point on how insensitive remarks on communal sentiments were made not by “fringe elements” but by ministers and MPs of the ruling party, when he quoted a news magazine that had, in an issue dated November 16 last year, said the Home Minister, at an internal meeting of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, made certain communal remarks.

The remarks pertained to Mr. Modi, being from a certain community, taking over as Prime Minister after 800 years. The moment Mr. Salim made those remarks, Mr. Rajnath Singh was on his feet and strongly denied them. “Not only do I deny the remarks, but no Home Minister of this country can make this kind of remarks. And if he does, he has no right to remain the Home Minister,” he said. “Mr. Salim is an old friend, but in my parliamentary career never have I been hurt more than this moment here. Mr. Salim should either prove that I have said these words or tender an apology to me,” he added. Mr. Salim said he would not withdraw the statement, though he had great personal affection for the Minister. “In fact, I would rather he be the Prime Minister of the country than Mr. Modi.”

He said he had made the statement quoting the magazine report and the Home Minister should have sent a denial to the magazine. He authenticated the particular issue of the magazine and submitted it to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan’s office for a ruling.

Outlook, quoted by Mr. Salim, apologised for “causing embarrassment to Mr. Rajnath Singh and Mr. Mohammad Salim.” The magazine clarified that instead of attributing the quote to Ashok Singhal, it had erroneously attributed it to Mr. Singh.

Remarks expunged

The intolerance debate in the Lok Sabha ground to a halt after Mr. Singh took exception to Mr. Salim citing remarks attributed to him in a magazine article.

After four adjournments, during which neither side yielded an inch, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan ruled that the remarks would be expunged and the article examined.

‘Breach of privilege’

There were demands by BJP MPs, including Meenakshi Lekhi, that the magazine and the reporter be cited for breach of privilege.

In fact, several television channels and even senior BJP leaders said the particular remark had been made by the late VHP leader Ashok Singhal. At a public function right after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, Mr. Singhal declared him to be “the first Hindu ruler in Delhi after 800 years,” referring to the Mughal and colonial rule and even post-Independence leaders and Prime Ministers as non-Hindu.

After the Speaker’s ruling, the debate resumed, with Mr. Salim completing his speech. His main charge against Mr. Modi’s government was its more than tacit approval of “domineering majoritarianism.” He quoted the Bhakti seer Kabir to explain the difference in perception on the tolerance debate, saying: “Our version of reality cannot be the same, you go by what you read, I go by what I see.”

Mr. Salim was followed by K.C. Venugopal of the Congress and Ms. Lekhi. Mr. Rajnath Singh will respond on Tuesday.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 8:32:58 PM |

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