The Congress on Thursday accused BJP MPs of subjecting its president Sonia Gandhi to “brutal heckling, verbal assault and physical intimidation” in the Lok Sabha and some MPs demanded an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sources said Congress leaders also met Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla demanding action against Union minister Smriti Irani and other BJP MPs.
The speaker told them to give it in writing and he will look into their complaint, they said, adding the party later submitted a letter to Birla seeking his intervention in sending the matter to the privilege committee.
Several Congress leaders, including Mallikarjun Kharge and Jairam Ramesh, spoke out as the face-off between their president and Irani in the Lok Sabha chamber added to the already raging row over party leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury referring to President Droupadi Murmu as ‘rashtrapatni’.
The remark on India’s first tribal president drew a fresh battleline between the Congress and the BJP, which demanded an apology from Sonia 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 intervened and was seen gesturing towards Gandhi and apparently protesting Chowdhury’s remark. Gandhi at first tried to ignore Irani’s protestations but was soon seen gesturing towards the minister and speaking angrily.
“The brutal heckling, verbal assault and physical intimidation of one of the most dignified ladies of Indian politics Sonia Gandhi inside (Parliament) by the BJP was traumatic and sickening,” Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi said in a tweet, adding that it reflected the mentality of a mob.
“Adhir Ranjan made a mistake and he accepted it but the way Sonia Gandhi was treated, it shows that the expectations they (BJP) have from us, they are unable to show it towards others,” he said.
Party general secretary Jairam Ramesh said Irani behaved inappropriately with Sonia Gandhi and used derogatory words.
“Smt. Sonia Gandhi was talking to a BJP MP Rama Devi. Smriti Irani surrounded Sonia Gandhi and called her abusive words in a very derogatory manner. When Sonia ji politely told her that she is not talking to her and am talking to another MP, Smriti Irani shouted ‘you don’t know me, who I am’. Many MPs of other parties and Congress MPs are witness to this incident,” he said in a statement in Hindi.
“What is this maryada? Can an MP not even talk to a fellow MP? Smriti Irani can keep her point in a political way. Why is she adopting a heckling attitude with a senior MP and a party president. It is against the dignity of Parliament and politics. Political opposition apart, but is such kind of behaviour with a senior MP justified,” he asked.
He also put out a Twitter post asking if rules were only meant for the Opposition.
Veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge echoed the outrage.
“The behaviour & unparliamentary conduct of many MPs & Ministers of BJP have been nothing short of outrageous today.
“Doesn’t (sic) personal attacks on Congress President Smt Sonia Gandhi call for suspension or is this ‘honour’ reserved only for asking legit parliamentary questions?” he asked on Twitter.
In the letter addressed to Birla, Congress wrote, “We seek your intervention in sending the matter to the privilege committee as the unruly behaviour of those alleged members may warrant the suspension from the House.”
Congress MP Jyotsna Mahant alleged that Irani disrespected Sonia Gandhi and spoke while pointing a finger at her. “This is shameful. The BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi must apologise for this behaviour.”
Another Congress leader Geeta Kora said the behaviour Gandhi was subjected to was “not acceptable”.
“The incident that happened in Parliament is a black spot in its history. The behaviour towards a senior MP, Sonia Gandhi, is unacceptable. Women and male MPs surrounded her, made objectionable comments and Irani spoke to her while pointing a finger at her repeatedly. She could have been hurt in the incident. I strongly condemn such behaviour and Smriti Irani and the prime minister should apologise in Parliament,” Kora said.
Congress leader Sachin Pilot said Sonia Gandhi has “considered service, unity, progress and prosperity of the country as her first duty. Her humble nature and respect for all in every situation is well known.
“The indecent behaviour by BJP leaders in the House today is condemnable”.
Congress MP Manickam Tagore also slammed Irani for what he said was “highly condemnable behaviour”.
Chowdhury has said he never intended to disrespect the president and his ‘rashtrapatni’ remark was a “slip of the tongue”. He accused the BJP of making a “mountain out of a molehill” over the issue.