Sources said the government this morning had unambiguously conveyed to the Congress that the Prime Minister wouldn't participate in the debate on communal harmony as "he doesn't like to be repeatedly questioned on issues on which he has already clarified his stand".
The Congress, on its part, told the government the upper House couldn't function unless the Prime Minister gave an assurance that the constitutional scheme on religious freedom would be respected.
"The Opposition's demand for the Prime Minister's assurance to Parliament is reasonable. If he doesn't respond, the Opposition will not relent," Congress deputy leader in the House Anand Sharma said.
The Prime Minister is not under any obligation to participate in a debate. But following the controversy over the recent "reconversion" of 350-odd minority slum-dwellers, the Opposition has decided to use the sensitive issue of harmony to mount pressure on the government and tell Modi that he would have to offer himself to parliamentary grilling.
Congress leaders said Modi would have to understand that he could not treat Parliament the way he had treated the Gujarat Assembly.
"Modi entered Parliament for the first time after becoming the Prime Minister and gave an emotional speech saying this was a temple for him," Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh told The Telegraph. "Now he does not want to even commit in Parliament that he will ensure constitutional principles are honoured. He never answered any question in the Gujarat Assembly and had his way by suspending the Opposition. This will not be possible here."
Sharma said the government's "arrogance and obduracy" were "solely responsible" for the "stalemate" in the Rajya Sabha.
"The Prime Minister believes in one-way communication. He doesn't like to be questioned. But the democratic narrative is never one way. He is the PM because there is a parliamentary system of governance and he will have to be answerable to Parliament," Sharma said.
"We want to make it clear that the government should not and must not expect the Opposition will salute if he comes and speaks."
Asked if the Opposition wouldn't allow the Rajya Sabha to function till the Prime Minister responded, he said: "I think we have made it abundantly clear."
Sharma, who is leading the Opposition charge in the Rajya Sabha, referred to provocative statements by BJP MPs and ministers on conversions and other issues. "We know the statements are deliberately being made to create communal disturbances to divert the nation's attention from non-fulfilment of promises and mismanagement of the economy. The Prime Minister is complicit. This is happening by design, not default. We are worried things could worsen and hence we want a commitment and some demonstrable action by the Prime Minister before the (winter) session ends (next week)."
Congress members debated Modi's record in the Gujarat Assembly after party MP Hanumantha Rao was suspended for the day for protesting in the House. They virtually challenged the Chair's ruling, arguing that the member was not even in the well when he was named.
"I was only asking why couldn't the PM come to the House as he was very much in Parliament," Rao said. "There is no question of apology. The allegation that I used foul language is false."
Modi will have to come to the Rajya Sabha tomorrow as Thursday's Question Hour relates to the Prime Minister's Office. The Opposition is determined not to allow the Question Hour till he speaks on communal disturbances first.
-The Telegraph, Calcutta
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