Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

Parliament stalemate continues over Gaza issue

Govt agrees to allow a discussion in the upper house on Monday after House chairman rejects its stand

New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on Thursday again refused to debate the violence in Gaza strip in the Rajya Sabha, 10 days into an Israel assault that has left over 200 Palestinians dead, raising the prospects of continuing political stalemate in the upper house of Parliament.

At a meeting of the Business Advisory Council (BAC) on Thursday afternoon the government, smarting from a rejection of its stand by the House chairman, agreed to discuss the issue on Monday.

But the opposition was adamant that no agenda could be taken up before completion of the short-duration discussion on the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, originally listed for Wednesday.

The issue washed out the second consecutive day in the Rajya Sabha, which was expected to discuss the railway budget.

On 10 July, the ministry of external affairs said in a statement that : “India is deeply concerned at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, particularly, heavy air strikes in Gaza, resulting in tragic loss of civilian lives and heavy damage to property. At the same time, India is alarmed at the cross-border provocations resulting from rocket attacks against targets in parts of Israel."

“India calls upon both sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid taking actions that may further exacerbate the situation, and threaten the peace and security of the region," the statement added.

The government has tried to steer clear of a discussion in the Rajya Sabha out of fear of offending either Israel or Palestine.

The opposition received a boost when chairman Hamid Ansari spoke out against the government’s request not to debate the issue in Parliament. “I am unable to accede to the request of the minister (external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj)...I do not find any infirmity in the notices (demanding a discussion) given by the leader of the opposition and others," Ansari said.

On Wednesday, Swaraj opposed a debate on the issue arguing it is not primarily a concern of the Indian government. “Any discourteous reference to any friendly country can impact our relationship with them (Israel and Palestine)," she added.

However, speaking at the Brics summit in Brazil the same day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed “concern at the recent outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine".

On Thursday, the upper house witnessed repeated adjournments, with the opposition determined to take up the matter before allowing any other business—despite Ansari saying the matter could be taken up at a later date. Questioning the chairman’s ruling, opposition members said he had no authority to change the agenda, and that an item listed for debate on Wednesday had to be taken up before any other matter on Thursday.

Opposition parties such as the Congress, Left, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United) and Trinamool Congress locked horns with the Chair, who kept saying that although the government had been consulted it had not yet given a date for the debate.

At the BAC meeting, minister of state for parliamentary affairs Prakash Javadekar agreed to allow a discussion in the upper house on Monday. But opposition leaders insisted it had to be taken up on Friday. “The issue has assumed importance. It was listed and the government changed its stance. So whatever is happening is because of the government’ changed stand," Communist Party of India leader D. Raja said.

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