Privilege motion against Rahul Gandhi: Congress president denigrated his party's senior leadership with tweet

Rahul Gandhi's 'Dear Mr Jaitlie' tweet has landed the Congress president in trouble. On 27 December, Rahul had sent out the following tweet:

Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu has found merit in a privilege motion moved against Rahul following this tweet, and after due consideration, admitted it and sent it to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for further action.

The move itself is extraordinary with huge political ramifications, not just because it is against the Congress president but also because Rahul is a member of Lok Sabha and not Rajya Sabha. This would inflame Congress' passions and has the potential to snowball into a major controversy, one that may disrupt Parliament proceedings in the Budget Session, which begins on 29 January.

Interestingly, the news of Naidu accepting the motion against Rahul was broken by Rajya Sabha TV, which essentially means that the official broadcaster had clearance from the Rajya Sabha chairman's office to break the news and make it official. Rajya Sabha TV tweeted:

What was the controversy about

Following days of logjam in Parliament, where Congress was demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologise to former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former vice-president Hamid Ansari for insinuating they colluded with Pakistan ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections, the Congress and BJP reached a negotiated settlement in order to allow Parliament to function smoothly.

File image of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File image of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

This settlement took place inside the chairman's chambers. Since the meeting between leaders of both parties was held in the chairman's chamber and related to previous and incoming proceedings of the house, the settlement too became part of the proceedings, sources said.

On 27 December, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who also happens to be Leader of House in Rajya Sabha, told Parliament, "The prime minister in his speeches did not question, nor meant to question, the commitment to this nation of either former prime minister Manmohan Singh or former vice-president Hamid Ansari. Any such perception is erroneous. We hold these leaders in high esteem, as well as their commitment to India."

As per the negotiated script, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad responded to this by saying, "I want to thank the Leader of House that he issued a clarification on the issue which was causing a deadlock for the last one week… I, on behalf of my (Congress) party, say that we disassociate from any comments made by any member during the elections that may have hurt the prime minister's dignity. We also do not want any such thing to be said in future."

With this, Parliament began functioning smoothly. But then, Rahul Gandhi posted the tweet referring to Jaitley as "Jaitlie". Sources told Firstpost that a draft of Jaitley's statement was shown to Azad and Manmohan Singh. Jaitley had read his statement only after due consultation and approval from top Congress leaders.

The issue has two parts: One technical and the other political

Consider the political part of it first. The move would arguably worsen the relationship between BJP and Congress.

But what is even more significant is its internal bearings on the Congress party. By posting the "Jaitlie" tweet, Rahul Gandhi effectively denigrated his own party's leadership structure and processes, and also the Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and former prime minister Manmohan Singh. He proved that he has scant regard for seniors in his own party. Just as he had done in September 2013, when he tore an ordinance drafted by his own Congress government at a time when the then prime minister Manmohan Singh was touring abroad.

But as Manmohan Singh suffered the humiliation and remained silent then, he again remained silent now. Though nobody in the Congress would speak anything against their president, Naidu's move has provided fodder for private talks within the ranks of the main Opposition party.

Sources told Firstpost that Naidu had prima facie found merit in the privilege motion moved by a BJP member on the following counts: Through his tweet, Rahul denigrated and condemned proceedings of the House, and also an officially negotiated settlement of which Congress was also part of.

Jaitley made this statement in his capacity as Leader of House after a settlement was arrived at. Rahul thus lowered the dignity of the House and its proceedings. The House is competent to accept privilege motions against anyone whether or not he is part of that House. In this case, since he is a Lok Sabha MP, the chairman has written sent a note to the Speaker of Lok Sabha.

"On perusing the documents on record, matters seem to involve prima facie a question of privilege. I am accordingly referring this matter to you in terms of the procedure laid down in the report of the committee of both Houses of Parliament mentioned above for further action as may be deemed appropriate," he said in his letter. He also urged the Speaker to intimate him of "action taken in the matter".

By doing so, Naidu has also added pressure on Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to take action. She has no option but to accept the privilege motion against Rahul. The Congress wouldn't take that lying down.

Published Date: Jan 06, 2018 19:09 PM | Updated Date: Jan 06, 2018 19:11 PM

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