New Delhi: After three hours of heated debate, the Lok Sabha on Friday passed a bill that seeks to remove the Congress president as a permanent member of the trust that runs the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar, Punjab.
A high-pitched verbal duel over the bill saw ruling National Democratic Alliance members accuse the Congress of holding on to the post despite it being the centenary year of the memorial. Opposition benches accused the Union government of “wasting time over petty politics".
In the event, the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed by a voice vote amid a walkout by the Congress party. Amendments moved by members of opposition parties were also defeated by division of votes.
“There are not many amendments. One is simply on the name of the bill. Another amendment is because there is a name of a president of a political party, and since it is the centenarian year we have proposed that the name be removed," said culture minister Prahlad Singh Patel, while introducing the bill.
“We should accept the truth that such organizations or trusts should not be politicized and should instead be nationalized," he added.
The amended bill also says that “the Leader of Opposition recognised as such in the House of the People, or where there is no such Leader of Opposition, then the Leader of the single largest Opposition Party in that House" will be on the trust.
“What happened on 13 April is not a small thing," Gurjeet Singh Aujla, senior Congress leader from Punjab, told the House, referring to the day in 1919 when tanks and soldiers of the British Indian army massacred peaceful and unarmed Indian protesters after trapping them in the eponymous walled public gardens in Amritsar.
“Stalwarts of the Congress remained in the party and fought for the Independence movement of India. They (treasury benches) get angry because you have no one to name or you would have done it very proudly. Their only intention is to wipe out history," said Aujla, opposing the bill.
“This is a conspiracy to remove the name of Congress from history and there is no other intention. History is of Congress, they went to jail, they ran the movement, the museum was built by them, the money was donated by them and then what is the reason that you want to remove Congress party president as trustee of the body," he added.
Union minister and senior leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, attacked the Congress and made a reference to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. “They talk of Jallianwala Bagh and memorial, but this is the party that indulged in killing Sikhs in 1984. Congress has selective memory—they remember and lie about what suits them," she said.
The remarks of both lawmakers drew sharp reactions from their rival parties, prompting speaker Om Birla to intervene and say that objectionable remarks will be expunged.
Dayanidhi Maran of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam also opposed the bill, saying such bills were a waste of Parliament’s time. Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress accused the Centre of trying to rewrite history, while Danish Ali of the Bahujan Samaj Party said the Centre was not setting the right example by bringing “trivial issues" for amendments. Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal said the House should not “belittle" itself by removing the name of the Congress president.