Rare Irani-Gandhi encounter triggers war of words

Synopsis

The stage was set after the first adjournment of the Lok Sabha, when Gandhi dramatically walked over towards treasury benches and engaged in a conversation with Rama Devi, with whom, according to Congress leaders, she was well acquainted with. Soon, Irani moved towards Gandhi and said something before the scene turned tense and noisy and many MPs surrounded the area.

ANI
Smriti Irani and Sonia Gandhi

The Lok Sabha witnessed a rare personal encounter between Union minister Smriti Irani and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, which triggered a Congress-BJP war of words. The Gandhi-Irani exchange took place after the House adjourned over Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury‘s remarks and, hence, nothing was on record. But MPs close to ‘ground zero’ narrated accounts of the scene, without wishing to be named.

The stage was set after the first adjournment of the Lok Sabha, when Gandhi dramatically walked over towards treasury benches and engaged in a conversation with Rama Devi, with whom, according to Congress leaders, she was well acquainted with. Soon, Irani moved towards Gandhi and said something before the scene turned tense and noisy and many MPs surrounded the area.

According to eyewitnesses among MPs, Gandhi told Rama Devi: “Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has already apologised. What is my fault?” They said, Irani then intervened to say, “madam, may I help you? It was I who took your name.” They said Gandhi responded, “don’t talk to me.” Some other MPs said Gandhi said, “I am not talking to you.” Another MP claimed Irani responded to Gandhi by saying, “how dare you! Don’t behave like this! This is not your party office.” There was no formal confirmation or denial from the two on the reported exchange but Congress and BJP denied their respective leaders behaved rudely.

Supriya Sule (NCP) and Mahua Moitra (Trinamool) were seen pursuing Gandhi to leave the House and minister Pralhad Joshi tried to disperse agitated MPs from the ‘encounter site’. A group of women Congress MPs later alleged at a news conference that BJP MPs subjected Sonia Gandhi to heckling and verbal assault and demanded Irani’s apology. “The way those BJP MPs started heckling Sonia Gandhi, she could have been injured. We somehow brought her out. I demand an apology from Smriti Irani and PM Modi,” Geeta Koda said.

Chowdhury attacked the government after Irani-Gandhi exchange. “Who are these people in BJP to lecture the country about morality? Everybody knows their track record on insulting women. Who was it who repeatedly launched personal attacks on Sonia ji in every election? Who called Renuka Chowdhury ‘surpanaka’ in the Rajya Sabha? Who called the CM of West Bengal, ‘O Didi’? Who called someone ’50 crore ka girlfriend’? These hypocrites should not preach.” Chowdhury later wrote a letter to Speaker Om Birla, demanding suspension of BJP MPs for their behaviour towards Gandhi and sought scrutiny of the matter by a privilege committee. The letter was signed by many Congress MPs. He sought an appointment with the President too. “I have the highest regard and respect for honourable President Droupadi Murmu ji. I will explain everything to her. If she still tells me she is hurt by my remarks, I will tender my apology right there.”

In a statement, Congress spokesman Jairam Ramesh said: “Sonia Gandhi was speaking to BJP MP Rama Devi. Blocking the passage of Sonia Gandhi, Irani called her abusive words… When Sonia ji politely told her that “I am not talking to you, I am talking to the other MP”, Smriti Irani shouted back “You don’t know me”… Is this the etiquette of conduct of a Union minister in the House? Can an MP not even talk to a fellow MP? Smriti Irani is free to express her view point in a politically conducive manner but why is she hell bent on such a heckling attitude towards a senior MP and the president of a party?”

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman demanded an apology from Sonia Gandhi claiming the remark by Chowdhury was a “deliberate sexist insult”. Talking to ANI at the Parliament complex, she said, “Sonia Gandhi should apologise to the President of India and the country.”

“Some of our Lok Sabha MPs felt threatened when Sonia Gandhi came up to our senior leader Rama Devi to find out what was happening during which, one of our members approached there and she (Sonia) said ‘you don’t talk to me’,” she said as per ANI.

Sule tweeted: “…Was shocked to hear unnecessary sloganeering against Mrs Gandhi after the House was adjourned…” Moitra tweeted: “Was in Lok Sabha when 75-year-old senior lady leader was encircled and heckled pack-wolf style, when all she did was walk over and speak to another senior lady panel chairperson…”

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