New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government on Wednesday refused to allow a discussion on Israel’s bombing of Palestinian Territories in Rajya Sabha despite it being listed in the day’s business, causing an uproar among the opposition, who insisted that no other business could be taken up before resolving the issue.

The death toll in nine days of Israeli attacks reached 213 on Wednesday after four children on the beach in Gaza City were killed in an Israeli raid, AFP news agency reported citing one of its correspondents, who witnessed the attack from a nearby hotel. Over 1,560 Palestinians have reportedly been wounded so far.

A debate had been scheduled in the Rajya Sabha on the “unprecedented spurt in violence in Gaza and West Bank area of Palestine causing death of scores of civilians".

But external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj pointed out India has diplomatic ties with both Israel and Palestine, adding, “any discourteous reference to any friendly country can impact our relations with them".

Swaraj said she had written to Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari requesting that the discussion be dropped after learning late that a short-duration discussion figured on Wednesday’ list of business. Leader of the opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad was to begin the discussion in which members belonging to Left parties and Janata Dal (United) were also listed to speak.

The refusal to discuss the matter came after the government on Tuesday rejected an opposition demand for an Indian parliamentary resolution condemning the “killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza" in the Lok Sabha.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking at the first working session of a summit of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) leaders in Fortaleza, Brazil, expressed “concern at the recent outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine", a government press release said.

Back home, the government’s stand united the opposition in Parliament with leaders citing rules and precedents to argue that business once listed cannot be altered. P.J. Kurien, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, said the chair would give a ruling later. But the opposition insisted that no other matter could be discussed until this one was resolved.

As a result a debate on the railway budget, expected to begin on Wednesday, did not take place.

The government’s reluctance is in line with the BJP’s position on the Palestinian conflict, which is seen as marking a tilt towards Israel. Unlike the Congress, which has traditionally supported the Palestine’s demand for a separate state, President Pranab Mukherjee’s address outlining government priorities to the two houses of Parliament made no mention of Palestine.

In contrast, former president Pratibha Patil in her address to the joint session of the Parliament five years ago said: “It (the government) will contribute to all efforts at peace in West Asia through the establishment of a viable Palestinian State at the earliest."

Meanwhile, in the Lok Sabha, during the debate on the Union budget, the Congress took on the BJP-led government saying it had failed to take steps to check rising prices.

Introducing the debate on the budget in the Lok Sabha, Jyotiraditya Scindia of the Congress party said that “though price rise is the most important issue right now, there was no mention of inflation in this budget". Instead, he said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had increased fuel prices and railway fares, burdening the common man. He pointed out that the same NDA, which opposed higher foreign direct investment (FDI) in insurance, had proposed raising the limit on FDI in the sector to 49% from 26% in its maiden budget.

He added that the government should not tax investments in debt mutual funds retrospectively. “When the investor was investing in debt mutual funds, say two years back, he did not know that he will taxed at a higher rate," he said. Tax buoyancy in India is low. Given the growth rate projections, tax revenues are unlikely to grow as budgeted, he said.

Jayant Sinha, BJP MP from Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, defended the budget, saying it had made “prudent and sensible allocations of funds...this budget has restored the confidence of investors. The legacy of the UPA (the former United Progressive Alliance government) has been two consecutive years of below 5% growth, something that India has not seen in 25 years," he said.

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