A derogatory remark by senior Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agrawal in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday linking names of Hindu gods with alcohol sparked an uproar forcing two adjournments and triggering demands for his apology.
The remark by Agrawal was expunged by the chair even as it came for a strong condemnation from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party members.
The BJP members demanded an apology, saying the comment had hurt religious feelings of a majority of people and that it also was a form of 'lynching'.
Agrawal made the remark while participating in a short duration debate on 'rising incidents of lynching and atrocities on minorities and Dalits across the country'.
After two adjournments, when the House re-assembled, Agrawal apologised, saying he did not intend to hurt the sentiments of anyone.
"If someone has been been hurt, I express my regret," the SP member said.
Later, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien ruled that part of Agrawal's remarks had been expunged and asked the media to guard against using these.
Earlier, while taking strong objection to the words used by Agrawal, Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said: "He (Agrawal) has linked up each of the Hindu Gods with brands (varieties) of alcohol. If he had said this outside, he would have been liable to prosecution.
"You have not realised the gravity of what you have said. Do you have the audacity to say about other Gods?"
Seeking an apology, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said, "He cannot hurt the sentiments of the majority people who are Hindus. He cannot hold the House to ransom."
BJP member Bhupender Yadav said, "In this House, no member should hurt the feelings of others. This is also lynching."
The ruling party members were on their feet demanding apology and shouted slogans 'Bhagwan ka apman nahi chalega (disrespect to Gods will not be tolerated)'.
Kurien, who missed the remark as he was busy speaking to a member, said he will check the records and expunge the comment.
"I have called for records. I will check and expunge the comment if any derogatory remarks are made," he said.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi requested the Chair to adjourn the House till the records were checked. The House was then adjourned for 10 minutes.
As soon as the House re-assembled at 3.21 pm, both the Treasury and the Opposition members were on their feet and traded barbs.
Trying to bring the House to order, the deputy chairman said, "I have gone through the records. It is per se derogatory and hurting the sentiments of majority community... I have expunged these remarks...He should not have made the remarks..."
However, the uproar continued with Agrawal reiterating that cowsheds are run by Agrawal community and 'if my statement has hurt members, I withdraw it'.
But the BJP members continued to demand apology from him.
The deputy chairman intervened, saying he had already 'disapproved' of and 'condemned' the remark and urged the members to not to fight on the issue.
The remarks were 'hurting' members sentiments and 'it is not on record', Kurien said.
He urged Agrawal to express regret and react to the situation to bring the House to order.
Agrawal said, "Lynching is a major issue..." To this, Kurien insisted that he should express regret.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury tried to intervene, saying the matter should be allowed to rest.
"Naresh Agrawal has said something offensive. you (chair) have gone on record condemning that. It is my appeal that let the House function," Yechury said.
However, the ruling party members were adamant on Agrawal tendering apology.
Ananth Kumar said, "He has not insulted a single person. He has insulted a community."
Amid slogans like "Bhagwan ka apman nahi chalega (insult to the God will not be allowed)", "Sri Ram ka apman nahi chalega (insult to Ram will not be allowed)" and "Apne devo ka apman, nahi sahega Hindustan (India will not tolerate insult to its deities)."
Ram Gopal Yadav, another party leader of the SP, said Agrawal will not tender apology even if the entire session has to function like this.
Naresh Gujral (Shiromani Akali Dal) suggested sending the issue to the Privileges Committee of the Rajya Sabha for a decision on it.
Anand Sharma (Congress) said the Gods belong to all and not only to the ruling party members. He said the ruling party should not become the 'custodians of God'.
He said last year, during the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) agitation, a cabinet minister had made certain 'derogatory' remarks against Goddess Durga and refused to apologise.
He said the issue pertained to faith of all and urged for a solution to it.
However, the ruling party members continued to raise slogans and the Chair adjourned the House till 4 pm.
When house re-convened, Ananth Kumar again condemned Agrawal's remark and said he should apologise.
He said the government wants the House to function and the SP member should not make it a prestige issue.
Ram Gopal Yadav then referred to Anand Sharma's comment about a cabinet minister making 'derogatory' remarks against Goddess Durga last year.
Yadav said if the cabinet minister has apologised, then Agrawal will also apologise. "There cannot be double standards," he added.
Agrawal then expressed regret and said in his entire political career, he has never hurt sentiments of any caste and religion.
The SP leader said he has never made any personal allegations as well.
Earlier, IT and Law Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad said that Agrawal's comment was not correct and that the SP leader should express regret.
After Kurien's ruling about expunging the remarks, Congress leader Anand Sharma said it should be ensured that these comments do not surface on the social media and passions are not inflamed.
Prasad said he would convey this to the authorities concerned.
At the same time, he said the character of social media has changed and 'we will have to collectively ensure that this does not spread' on the social media.
IMAGE: Samajwadi Party member Naresh Agarwal speaks in the Rajya Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photograph: PTI Photo