A face-off between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Union Minister Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha chamber on Thursday added fuel to the already raging row over Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s remark on President Droupadi Murmu.
Chowdhury’s reference to Murmu, India’s first tribal President, as “rashtrapatni” triggered a war of words between the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi demanding an apology from Gandhi.
As the Lok Sabha adjourned soon after 12 noon, Gandhi walked across to the Treasury benches and sought to know from BJP member Rama Devi why she was dragged into the issue. Irani stepped in and was seen gesturing towards Gandhi and apparently protesting against Chowdhury’s remark. Gandhi at first tried to ignore Irani’s protestations, but soon was seen gesturing towards the minister and speaking angrily.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed that Gandhi told a BJP member not to talk to her. However, the Union minister did not name any BJP leader. NCP member Supriya Sule and Trinamool member Aparupa Poddar were seen escorting the Congress president away from the Treasury benches as BJP members flocked around Rama Devi and Gandhi.
BJP women members were seated in the front rows in the Lok Sabha as they led the protests in the House against Chowdhury's remarks. Later, Rama Devi told the media that Gandhi sought to know why her name was dragged into the issue. "What is my fault," Gandhi asked Rama Devi, the BJP member from Sheohar in Bihar.
Rama Devi said she told Gandhi that her fault was that she had selected Chowdhury as the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha. Addressing reporters in Parliament premises, Sitharaman accused Gandhi of speaking in a “threatening tone” with BJP members.
Sitharaman claimed that Gandhi told BJP members “you don’t talk to me”, when they sought to know what was the issue being discussed. "Instead of tendering an apology, she is misleading by claiming that Adhir Chowdhury has already apologised. Instead of an apology, she is resorting to threats," Sitharaman said referring to the incident in the Lok Sabha chamber.
Hitting back, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh termed Irani's behaviour as "outrageous". "Atrocious and outrageous behaviour by Union Minister Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha today! But will she be pulled up by the Speaker? Are rules only meant for the Opposition," AICC General Secretary Ramesh said on Twitter.
Former union minister Milind Deora said he had never seen Gandhi being rude or impolite, even when provoked. "This is not the first time that she has been targeted personally and of late, unjustly, both inside & outside Parliament. She has and will always endure," Deora said on Twitter