Opposition slams Govt. over Agnihotri appointment

NEW DELHI, AUG. 30. The Opposition today staged a walk-out in the Lok Sabha in protest against the Government's refusal to review its decision to appoint Mr. B.K. Agnihotri, an RSS activist, as adviser in the Indian Embassy in Washington, with the rank of an Ambassador.

Mr. Agnihotri's appointment was the subject of an animated discussion with the Opposition members, led by Mr. Somnath Chatterjee CPI(M), training their guns on the Government, accusing it of trying to change the well-established national consensus on External Affairs by appointing persons with RSS background.

Terming the appointment as totally ``illegal and one that would weaken the position of the existing U.S. Ambassador'', the Opposition charged the Government with attempting to propagate its ``Hindutva'' agenda by appointing Mr. Agnihotri, an RSS leader and member of an organisation ``the Overseas friends of BJP''.

The Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr. Pramod Mahajan, rejected the Opposition demand for reviewing the appointment. ``Being a member of the RSS is neither a crime nor a disqualification, if the Prime Minister, the Home Minister or myself can hold our positions despite being members of the RSS so can Mr. Agnihotri,'' he said. At this point, the Opposition parties staged a walk-out.

Earlier, raising the issue during zero hour, Mr. Chatterjee said the Government had created an extraordinary situation by appointing an RSS functionary as an Ambassador-at- large, to look after the interests of the Non-Resident Indians. He wanted the Government to clarify Mr. Agnihotri's role when there was already an Ambassador in Washington.

Mr. Madhavrao Scindia (Congress) said the Government had created an atmosphere of suspicion by appointing Mr. Agnihotri. The Government was undoing the national consensus that existed on issues of foreign affairs by such appointments. He had received several messages from NRIs protesting the appointment and read out a letter from Mr. Surinder Malhotra, president of the Indian National Overseas Congress, protesting the appointment.

The former Prime Minister, Mr. Chandra Shekhar, took Mr. Mahajan to task for justifying Mr. Agnihotri's appointment. ``If the Government wants to propagate `hindutva' in this manner, I don't know where the country is headed to''. He called upon the Government to take the nation and Parliament into confidence and explain the need for the appointment. He said either the Prime Minister or the External Affairs Minister should make a statement in the House on the issue.