M A I N   N E W S

Laloo’s absence sparks din
Lok Sabha adjourned
Rajeev Sharma and Gaurav Choudhury
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15
It was an embarrassment the UPA government could have done without as the Opposition, led by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his vintage best, today demanded in the Lok Sabha a statement from Railway Minister Laloo Prasad on yesterday’s train accident in Punjab.

The ruckus during Zero Hour, which forced Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to adjourn the House for the day in the afternoon, electrified the political circuits as Mr Vajpayee held fort in the absence of the Leader of Opposition, Mr L.K. Advani. Mr Vajpayee, who is also Chairman of the National Democratic Alliance, had to intervene several times demanding a statement from Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav as he refused to accept a statement from any other Minister.

“It is a very serious matter. The statement should have come from the Railway Minister. We want to know whether he is now at the accident site or in Bihar”, Mr Vajpayee said.

The din gathered steam by the minute while the Speaker attempted to continue with the business of the House. Finally, the Speaker adjourned the House for 10 minutes for a meeting of leaders of major political parties in his chamber.

In the Speaker’s chamber also, Mr Vajpayee took a resolute and aggressive view and made the Opposition’s intentions clear: no proceedings to be allowed in the House till Mr Yadav surfaces in the House and makes a statement. Mr Vajpayee even went to the extent of saying at this meeting that the Opposition would be willing to listen to a statement from any other minister if Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav were to be shifted to some other Ministry.

From the government’s side, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the proceedings would continue as usual. Sources said Mr Vajpayee challenged the government to try to run the house as usual without a statement from Mr Yadav.

The Speaker realised that the two sides were locked in a no-reconciliation situation. As the House assembled after 10 minutes, Sumitra Mahajan who was in the Chair, adjourned the House till 2 p.m. and after a brief sitting at 2 p.m. the House was adjourned for the day.

Mr Vajpayee then spent some time in the corridor — a rarity in past many years — and then went to the Central Hall, something which he has not done in the past six and a half years. The former PM sat in the Central Hall for about an hour, triggering speculations of signals of a renewed turf war in the BJP.

Meanwhile, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, who while returning from the train accident site in Punjab had gone to Patna today in view of an RJD rally there on December 23, made an appearance in the Rajya Sabha this evening. The Minister wanted to make the much-demanded statement but was not allowed to do so.

Much to the consternation of the Treasury benches, Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan declined to allow Mr Yadav to make the statement on the train accident. The Treasury benches protested in vain as the Deputy Chairman cited the ruling of Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat that the debate on internal security was on and the Chairman had listed the statement for tomorrow.

Earlier in the Lok Sabha this morning, as soon as Minister of State for Railways R Velu stood up to make a statement on the accident, an unrelenting Opposition trooped to the well of the House raising slogans such as : “Laloo Jawab Do, Laloo Istifa Do (Laloo reply, Laloo resign), Tanashahi Nahin Chalegi (We won’t allow autocracy of the government), Sarkar Hosh Mein Aao (the government should come to senses)”.

The members of the Opposition, also ignored normal practice and trooped near the Treasury benches in the Well of the House. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad were seen asking the Opposition members to leave the space in front of the Treasury benches.

Mr Velu began reading out the statement and as nothing could be heard in the din, the Speaker asked him to lay the statement on the table of the House. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ghulam Nabi Azad quoted the rule books saying that the Minister of State can make a statement as he belonged to the Council of Ministers.

A visibly upset Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, however, refused to relent and went ahead with the scheduled business even as the NDA members continued to raise slogans and thronged the Well of the House.

He allowed CPI member Gurudas Dasgupta to take up the calling attention motion on the government’s banking policy. 

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