PM, Advani lock horns; opposition tears into Pawar

New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani locked horns in the Lok Sabha Wednesday over ‘secret talks’ on Kashmir and the implementation of one-rank-one-pension scheme for defence personnel while the opposition tore into Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in the Rajya Sabha on an alleged sugar scam.

The prime minister attacked Advani for trying to create a ‘rift between service personnel’ and the government. The BJP leader had alleged that a promise made in the 2009 budget – on the one-rank-one-pension scheme for ex-servicemen – had not been implemented completely.

‘Whatever I have promised, my government has done. Whatever the finance minister stated in the budget, it has been implemented,’ Manmohan Singh said.

Advani also referred to a Newsweek report, which quoted Indian and US sources as saying that India and Pakistan have restarted ‘secret back-channel talks’ over Kashmir, and asked the prime minister for an explanation.

Manmohan Singh said: ‘How many times did Jaswantji (who was external affairs minister in the NDA government) talk with US government representatives? How many times you informed the house? Why are you expecting me to answer hypothetical questions?’

In the Rajya Sabha, an unrelenting opposition led by the BJP heckled Pawar throughout his 70-minute reply to a short duration discussion that was held last week on the rising prices of essential commodities, accusing him of misleading the house and not addressing the concerns raised by them.

They also wanted him to speak on the fuel price hikes but the presiding officer, P.J. Kurien, disallowed this, saying it could be taken up during the debate on the budget for 2010-11.

So intense were the protests that Kurien, at one stage, even threatened to name Bahujan Samaj Party MP Brijesh Pathak if he didn’t resume his seat and let the minister continue.

‘Don’t cross the Lakshman Rekha,’ Kurien repeatedly said as opposition MPs Brinda Karat (Communist Party of India-Marxist), D. Raja (Communist Party of India), joined Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley, S.S. Ahluwalia and Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP to repeatedly interrupt Pawar and demand that he answer their specific queries, particularly relating to the sugar scam.

Kurien even rejected a point of order raised by Ravi Shankar Prasad, saying: ‘The chair cannot direct the minister to reply in a particular manner.’

In the midst of the continuous barracking, Pawar gamely soldiered on, saying there was no scam as the government had not imported any sugar and had left this to private parties.

This did not satisfy the BJP MPs, who stormed the speaker’s podium as Pawar said above the din: ‘I can assure this house that not a single kilo of sugar has been imported by the government of India. We have left this to private parties.’

This comment came after a fiery Karat pointed to what she termed ‘the dubious role of state agencies in not importing sugar and leaving this to the private trade’.

As he finished, Kurien adjourned the house at 3.10 p.m. till 4 p.m.

When the house reassembled, it took up the motion of thanks to the president for her address to the joint session of parliament last Monday.

In the morning, both houses witnessed tumultuous scenes as opposition MPs demanded a rollback of the fuel price hikes, saying they would have a cascading effect on the already high prices of essential commodities and vegetables.

In the Lok Sabha, Speaker Meira Kumar adjourned the house till 12 noon soon after it assembled and Deputy Speaker Karia Munda then did so till 2 p.m.

When the house reassembled, it took up the motion of thanks for the president’s address.

In the Rajya Sabha, Chairman Hamid Ansari first adjourned the proceedings till 12 noon and Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan did so till 2 p.m.

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