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August 4, 2000
Congress demands judicial inquiry into Kashmir carnage
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday demanded that the government set up a judicial inquiry to examine whether serious security lapses had led to the recent massacre of nearly 100 persons in Jammu and Kashmir and to fix responsibility for those lapses.
"Yesterday, at his press conference in Srinagar, the prime minister said there were no serious security lapses, which means there were lapses. It [the government] must take the House into confidence what its intends to do to prevent such incidents," Gandhi, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, asserted.
She said the inquiry should fix responsibility for any security lapses that had led to the massacres. She accused the government of having "taken leave of its conscience" (for not having instituted any inquiry into the matter).
She made her assertions after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's brief statement on his visit to Jammu & Kashmir on Thursday.
When Gandhi rose to make her statement, the agitated treasury benches, particularly members of the Shiv Sena, tried to shout her down. Congress and other opposition members responded vigorously, drowning the House in din and disorder. Both sides gesticulated wildly and traded serious charges.
Speaker G M C Balayogi tried to pacify the agitated members, but with little success. Balayogi reminded the treasury benches that Gandhi, as leader of the Opposition, deserved to be heard in silence. But the treasury benches appeared to be in no mood to relent, eliciting an equally angry response from the Opposition. Congress members Pawan Kumar Bansal, Mani Shankar Aiyar, S Jaipal Reddy and Renuka Chaudhary were especially vociferous. The treasury benches were led by the Sena's leader in the House, Anant Gite.
Vajpayee then intervened to contend that the traditions and conventions of the Lok Sabha should be maintained and there should be no clarifications on his statements made in the House. But the Congress benches shouted that the massacre had shocked not only the country but the world and the government could not adopt a casual approach.
Vajpayee then conceded that as leader of the Opposition, Gandhi deserved to be heard in silence and respect, drawing applause from the treasury benches.
Vajpayee pointed out that the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference government of Dr Farooq Abdullah had already instituted an inquiry into the massacres. "If necessary, we will also institute a judicial inquiry." He conceded that the recent massacre was a 'huge' incident and it was natural for the Opposition to raise questions about it.
But the Congress members were dissatisfied with this explanation and walked out of the House, though they waited for Prime Minister Vajpayee and Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani to exit first.
Earlier, Vajpayee thanked Gandhi, Communist Party of India, Marxist, leader Somnath Chatterjee, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Trinamul Congress president Mamata Banerjee and other opposition leaders for having accompanied him to Kashmir at short notice.
He pointed out that his discussion with the chief of the unified high command of the security forces in the state had confirmed that foreign terrorists having a link with Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Tayiba were responsible for the massacre.
While underscoring the government's determination to continue its talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen for a peaceful solution of the Kashmir problem, Vajpayee declared, amidst applause from the treasury benches, "We will not yield to terrorism."
The Congress stand in the Lok Sabha confirmed the impression that it was determined to go ahead and corner the BJP-led government on the massacre.
"We feel the government has been caught napping as far as security matters in J&K are concerned. That's why our party chief today brought up this lacuna in the Lok Sabha. We did not get a satisfactory answer from either the prime minister or his government, which is why we staged the walkout," Chaudhary later said.
Congress spokesperson Margaret Alva echoed her views. She called Vajpayee's statement "ineffective" and "inadequate". Her party was determined to nail the government if security lapses had been committed in Kashmir, she added.
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