Patna: Pandemonium prevailed in the two Houses of Bihar legislature on Wednesday over state minister Abdul Gafoor's visit to Siwan jail to meet jailed RJD strongman Mohammad Shahabuddin, with opposition BJP demanding his resignation.
Gafoor, the Minority Affairs Minister and an RJD MLA, however, rejected the BJP demand, saying it was not a crime to have a courtesy meet with a former party MP and that he would visit Shahabuddin again if he got a chance.
As the Assembly met for the day, members of BJP and their NDA allies RLSP, LJP and Hindustani Awam Morcha, demanded that the House first take up the Gafoor issue first before any other deliberations.
Leader of Opposition Prem Kumar made the demand to Speaker Vijay Chaudhary who continued with the Question hour.
NDA legislators then trooped into the well of the House shouting slogans against the government.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was not present then.
Prem Kumar said Gafoor going to jail to meet a convict has sullied image of Bihar and hence he should quit and if he does not do so, the Chief Minister should dismiss him.
The Speaker carried on with the Question hour for 15 minutes amidst pandemonium and then ordered adjournment till post-lunch session.
As the Assembly resumed business after lunch break, Prem Kumar sought the reply of the state government on the issue alleging that earlier the ruling party legislators were violating laws and now a minister is doing so.
When Speaker Vijay Chaudhary turned down his plea for a reply from the state government saying it was not the right time for raising the issue, Prem Kumar and other NDA MLAs staged a walkout.
BJP's MLAs did not move cut motion on budgetary demand of the education department because of walkout.
The issue had its echo in the Legislative Council too.
State BJP president and MLC Mangal Pandey demanded the house to take up the issue raised by BJP through adjournment notice first before attending to other agenda.
Chairperson Awdesh Narayan Singh told him to raise the issue after Question hour.
As Question Hour ended, Pandey raised the issue again in the presence of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
After the Chair rejected the adjournment notice, BJP members trooped to the well and shouted slogans.
Amidst the din, Pandey demanded Gafoor's resignation and asked the CM to break his silence on the episode but Kumar sat quietly on his seat. The House was then adjourned till lunch.
Gafoor and RJD MLA Harishankar Yadav paid a visit to Shahabuddin in Siwan jail on Sunday. A photograph of the three in the jail has gone viral on social media.
Lodged in Siwan jail since 2005 over several cases of murder and kidnapping, Shahabuddin has been convicted by Siwan court in eight cases and was sentenced to life in two.
The Chief Minister has ordered an enquiry to check if any norm was violated by that meeting.
Talking to reporters outside the House, Prem Kumar demanded a probe by a retired High Court judge to bring to light how rules were violated to facilitate the meeting.
"(RJD chief) Lalu Prasad, whose party is the largest constituent of the Grand Secular Alliance government wishes to take Bihar back to days of 'jungle raj'," he said.
Prasad had on Tuesday said it was not a big issue and when he (Prasad) was in jail, people used to meet him and they were given some snacks.
Gafoor also struck a defiant posture. "It was a courtesy meeting with Shahabuddin who has
been MP from the party for long. I did not commit any crime in meeting him. So why should I resign?" he told reporters. Stating that he did not violate any jail manual and did not carry mobile phone inside the jail, Gafoor said, "I will meet him (Shahabuddin) again if I get a chance."
Gafoor, the MLA of Mahishi in Saharsa district, said, "I have not become a minister because of BJP."
Senior RJD leader and former Chief Minister Rabri Devi also defended Gafoor.
"The BJP leaders who are making a hue and cry over the issue should speak about their meeting LJP leader Surajbhan Singh and Rama Singh in jail on many occasions," Rabri Devi, an MLC, told reporters outside the Legislative Council gate.
Senior BJP leader and leader of opposition in the Legislative Council Sushil Kumar Modi questioned the propriety of a minister to visit jail to meet a convict.
"Why Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is silent on the issue? He should answer if such meeting is morally approved or not?" Sushil Modi asked while talking to reporters.
"If a minister goes to meet a convict in a jail, it boosts criminals and demoralises the police," he added.
Sushil Modi alleged the state government was trying to weaken the criminal's cases registered against former RJD MP Mohammad Shahabuddin and honour him after release from prison.
Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav defended Gafoor, saying "Anybody could meet anybody. Even Congress president Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadra had gone to meet the killer of her father Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu jail."