It was a small victory that the government afforded the Congress party in the Lok Sabha on Friday and it came at the cost of leaving Speaker Sumitra Mahajan embarrassed. But the gesture indicated the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)'s willingness to accommodate concerns of the primary opposition party with the Rajya Sabha scheduled to take up key reform bills, including the Land Bill, before the two Houses break for a month long recess on March 20.
The Lok Sabha, where the Bharatiya Janata Party commands a majority and the Congress has a mere 44 MPs, today initiated a discussion on the union budget of 2015-16. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said parliamentary tradition and convention demanded the Finance Minister should be present in the House.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan insisted that Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha was present in the House and that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, with her permission and after authorising Sinha, was on a visit to the UK on important government work. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said Jaitley was in London to unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and that Sinha was capable and competent to substitute for him.
With Congress President Sonia Gandhi present in the House and marshalling her troops, Congress MPs walked into the well of the House shouting slogans "Finance Minister has run away, Finance Minister come back", forcing Mahajan to adjourn the House for 15 minutes at 12.30pm.
When the House reconvened, Kharge said his party was prepared for the discussion but didn't want a precedent like this to be set. He also said how the Congress has co-operated with the government in both the Houses in recent days.
Mahajan continued to insist how there was nothing in the rulebook to suggest that the cabinet minister of Finance and not the Minister of State of that department should initiate the discussion. She also stressed that it was after her permission that Sinha was substituting for Jaitley.
But with the Congress wanting the discussion to be postponed for Monday by which time Jaitley is set to return, Naidu conceded and suggested the House be adjourned for lunch and later take up other issues. Mahajan then adjourned the House.
Later, Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Rajiv Pratap Rudy accused the Congress of being "confused", of running away from a debate, violating democratic values and disregarding the Speaker. The two furnished a ruling from the Speaker in the Lok Sabha of March 31, 1958, where the Speaker had said a minister need not be present in the House when an MoS or a deputy minister attached to his ministry is present in the House to answer for him.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Naidu also convened a meeting of ministers, attended by 35 ministers, to ask all of them to travel across India during the month long recess of the Parliament session to highlight the government's initiatives, particularly the objectives of the contentious Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill.