Lok Sabha on Monday witnessed clashes and repeated adjournments as it took up the debate on 'intolerance' with the opposition targeting the government and triggering a storm after a Communist Party of India-Marxist member attributed 'Hindu leader' comments to Home Minister Rajnath Singh who denied it.
The comments by Mohd Salim, who cited a report in a news magazine while initiating the debate on 'intolerance, led to a deadlock with the ruling side demanding that he either withdraw these comments or apologise.
The logjam, because of which the house was adjourned four times, was resolved in the evening after Speaker Sumitra Mahajan expunged the remarks related to the allegations.
This paved the way for resumption of the debate during which opposition parties like CPI-M and Congress attacked the government, alleging that intolerance had increased since the National Democratic Alliance government came.
The Bharatiya Janata Party hit back by saying that incidents, which were being projected by the opposition as examples of 'intolerance', had been taking place in the country for decades. Its member Meenakshi Lekhi also cited home ministry figures to insist that incidents of communal violence had come down since the NDA came to power.
Earlier, the ruling and the opposition sides locked horns after Salim alleged that Singh was quoted by the magazine as having made the 'Hindu leader' remark after Narendra Modi became prime minister last year. Citing the magazine, Salim said Singh had made the remark at an internal meeting of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Singh vehemently denied it and said he was never hurt so much in his Parliamentary career as he was on Monday.
"Mohd Salim levelled a serious allegation against me. He should say when and where I made such a statement or apologise .... A home minister who makes such a statement has no moral right to be the home minister. I speak after weighing every word... People know Rajnath Singh can never make such a statement," Singh said.
When some BJP members questioned whether he was present when such a reported comment was made, the CPI-M member said, "I don't have such misfortune to attend RSS meeting."
Members in the treasury benches, including Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Pratap Rudy, demanded that Salim withdraw his remark till the speaker takes a view by examining all sides, including authenticity of the report.
At this point, Rudy said it would be difficult to run the House till he withdraws his comments. The speaker asked Salim to agree to this but he declined. He, however, told the speaker that the remarks may not be made part of the record till she verifies it.
Salim insisted that he was not levelling any allegation nor wanted to cast any aspersion on Singh but was only quoting from a reputed weekly. He said neither the home minister nor the government has ever denied the report.
At the same time, Salim acknowledged that it was the home minister who was among the first from the government to speak against Dadri lynching incident.
B Mahtab (Biju Janata Dal) sided with the treasury benches and quoted the rule book to say that an allegation against a minister or member cannot be made without giving prior notice.
Saugata Roy, whose party Trinamool Congress is a bitter rival of the CPI-M, however, batted for Salim by citing another rule.
Amid the uproar, Salim walked to the Lok Sabha secretary general and authenticated the article containing Singh's alleged remarks.
When the BJP members demanded withdrawal of the remarks by Salim, he said he had only quoted from an article in a publication. In a way, he said, he has helped the minister as the Intelligence Bureau and police should have told him about this earlier as the issue was dated November 16.
The speaker told the member that she was keeping his remarks out of records till she examined them.
After repeated adjournments, the speaker announced that the portion related to the allegation had been expunged as no prior notice had been given by Salim.
As the debate resumed, Salim alleged that 'intolerance' was on the rise and the government had failed to check this. To press his point, he referred to returning of awards by writers, artist, film-makers etc.
"In the name of religion, atrocities are being committed and the government is keep silent instead of taking strong action against killing of minorities, dalit and rationlists," alleged the CPI-M member who had given notice for a debate on the subject.
Making religion as shield against injustice is not a sustainable proposition, he said.
A series of incidents is a reflection of the fact that there is some problem in "fundamental thinking" and untruth and violance has become order of the day, he said.
"It is not Satyameya Jayate but Asatyameya Jayete...It is not Ashimsa Parmo Dharma but Himsha Parmo Dharma," he alleged.
The remark of the Gen V K Singh over the dalit killing in Haryana was also raised by Salim.
Congress member K C Venugopal said it is only in the last 15-16 months that the chain of the events have led to "destruction of secular fabric" of the country.
He raised the Dadri issue, killing of dalit in Haryana, unbriddled comments by various ministers on intolerance.
"No mature remark from the Prime Minister came even after series of incidents of intolerance," Venugopal said, adding the government maintained unfortunate silence.
"Inaction gave courage to intolerant forces," he added.
He observed "we must differentiate between tolerant Hinduism and intolerant Hindutva."
Rubbishing the perception of 'intolerance', Lekhi described the artistes, filmmakers, writers and "so called intellectuals" as "intellectual mercenaries" and said such people are not concerned about how they are tarnishing the country's image and the relations between communities.
"A lot of people are worried about the atmosphere of alleged intolerance being created and those who are returning their awards are returning the rewards for political considerations," the BJP member said.
Attacking Congress, she said the party had been creating a fear psychosis among the minorities by following the "divide and rule" policy of the Britishers and pitting Muslims against Hindus. She also raked up the Shah Bano case controversy to target Congress.
She said there is intolerance towards the elected NDA government and the perception of 'intolerance' is being created just for the political agenda.
Referring to the Dadri incident, Lekhi wondered whether responsibility of such a thing should be on the state (UP) government or the Centre.
About the recent incident at Kerala House where police entered the premises following a complaint that its canteen served beef, Lekhi said if the police had not acted, then "Dadri like incident could have happened (there)". Her remarks elicited protests from Kerala's members in the House.
Answering critics' questions as to why Delhi Police entered the Kerala House premises, the lawyer-turned-politician asserted that it was not a diplomatic enclave where police cannot enter. She said beef was mentioned in the canteen menu but whether it was cow meat or not, can be ascertained only after a forensic analysis.
About the recent incident in Faridabad where two Dalit children were burnt alive, she said the matter has been found to be that of personal rivalary but it was presented as a case of lower caste versus upper caste. At the same time, she said such happenings should be condemned.
To Opposition members who referred to 'dog' remarks of Minister V K Singh on the Faridabad incident, Lekhi said this country has respect for dogs also.
Lekhi said when a school teacher was killed in front of students and a lecturer's hand was chopped off in Kerala, there was no "award wapsi".
She also referred to attacks on churches in Delhi and said that later it was found that there were more attacks on temples and masjids.
Targeting the Congress, she asked what have they have done for the minorities and also recalled instances of books banned by previous governments.
Lekhi also said that during 1950-2014 period, 35 books were banned and out of them, the present government banned only one book, that too following an order from a court in Pune.
Some books were banned to protect the dynasty and were an act of silencing criticism. Now, efforts are being to have rhetoric of intolerance which either has any logic or reason nor supported by data and statistics, she added.
In an apparent reference to Congress, Lekhi, who is an MP from Delhi, wondered why certain people had shared stage with those behind Khalistan movement.
Dinesh Trivedi (TMC) said something has perhaps gone wrong, "if not why, are we talking about the subject of intolerance".
However, "I will not accept this country is not tolerant ... We belong to the country of Mahatma Gandhi," he said.
Against the backdrop of artistes returning their awards and cine star Aamir Khan's remarks about intolerance, Trivedi said that does not mean people should be sent to Pakistan.
"If people are sent to Pakistan, they would become diaspora and the two nations would become one. Nowadays, the Prime Minister interacts more with the diaspora," he said in an apparent reference to Narendra Modi's visits overseas.
B Mahtab (BJD) said those in power should speak out against alleged instances of intolerance and their silence has created a "culture of impunity".
"If you don't want to remove them from positions, then at least rebuke them in public," the BJD leader said, apparently indicating that the government should act against those in government or ruling party making irresponsible comments.
"Political correctness and social etiquette keeps intolerance in check," Mahtab noted.
According to him, complaints of intolerance have gone up many times when a new government comes into power as some might not like the government. This is because persons who have been beneficiaries during previous rule might lose their positions, he added.
"Is the change in government creating turmoil (in the country)? That needs to be discussed," he said.
He also noted that some members in this government lack the "sophistication of previous elite".
While emphasising that deep-lying fault lines in the country's social fabric should be corrected, he said a Communal Harmony Commission could be set up to address communal violence issues.
Citing J&K government's recent submission to the Supreme Court that only one Kashmir Pandit family has returned to the valley, Mahtab wondered whether that was not showing intolerance in the country.