The Opposition, led by the Congress, on Tuesday joined hands to demand a clarification from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on United States President Donald Trump's stunning claim that the Indian leader had requested him to mediate in the Kashmir issue.
If what Trump claims is true, Modi has betrayed India's interests, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, a sentiment backed by several Opposition leaders who spoke out in Parliament and outside.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made a statement on the floor of both Houses of Parliament and strongly rejected Trump's comment during a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington.
On Monday night, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a strong denial, saying it has been India's consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally.
Opposition parties were, however, not satisfied and wanted Modi to come to both the Houses and clarify.
Gandhi also asserted that a ‘weak’ foreign ministry denial wouldn't do and the prime minister must tell the nation what transpired in the meeting between him and the US president.
The issue rocked the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha with frequent disruptions as Opposition members vociferously put forth their demand.
Congress-led Opposition staged a walkout from the Rajya Sabha as they demanded the PM make a statement on the issue.
As soon as the Lower House met for the day, members from the Congress and some other Opposition parties were on their feet shouting slogans over the issue.
Later, when Zero Hour began, Congress' Manish Tewari said the prime minister himself should clarify since Trump's statement is serious.
Echoing him, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's T R Baalu said Modi should personally make a statement since the issue involved him.
When Jaishankar rose to make a statement, it was drowned in protests by the entire opposition. The opposition then walked out of proceedings.
In the Upper House, too, there were heated exchanges between opposition benches and Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, who adjourned proceedings.
The Rajya Sabha was repeatedly adjourned amid opposition uproar over Trump's comment.
When the House resumed at 3 pm, Deputy Chairman B K Harivansh announced resumption of debate on The Appropriation Bill, 2019 and The Finance Bill, 2019.
But as Ashok Bajpai (Bharatiya Janata Party) started to speak, Congress leaders started raising anti-government slogans.
Trying to pacify the Congress members, Harivansh said that already the matter has been discussed in detail in the presence of Chairman Venkaiah Nadu and that he could not allot more time for it.
BJP member Bhupender Yadav said the External Affairs Minister has already stated the government's view on the matter.
"When the Lok sabha is satisfied with the government's reply and work is going on there, this is elder's house and this is our responsibility to run it," Yadav said.
If Lok Sabha can run, then Rajya Sabha should be more productive as an important bill is being discussed in the House, he added.
Reacting to this, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government should not try to run Parliament as some ‘department’ of a ministry.
He said it is the responsibility of the Upper House to discuss each and every aspect of a bill in a thorough manner.
Azad said that unlike in Lok Sabha where elections are held every 5 years, Rajya Sabha is a permanent house which never gets dissolved.
"In the Lok Sabha, bills are passed under various considerations because they have to get elected, there are regional considerations, religious considerations… but in this House (Rajya Sabha) there is no such consideration," Azad said.
It is the responsibility of the Rajya Sabha to see that the bills passed in the Lok Sabha are for country's welfare, he added.
"So don't say its happening there (Lok Sabha) and not happening here... you applied rubbber stamp there and similarly trying to use rubber stamp here. Sorry we are not rubber stamps," Azad said.
He further said: "If this governemnt is trying to run Parliament like a government department, we are sorry we will not adhere to that… Parliament is not a department of a ministry… it will run according to the constitution and law of the land."
Azad alleged the Prime Minister never responds and no minister in the government has the guts to tell him that it is his duty to respond to queries of members in both the Houses.
"Prime Minister has not done that in the past 6 years and today also he is not there, therefore the entire opposition will walkout," he added.
Yadav, while raising a point of order, said that as per Rule 251, the minister has already stated the government's viewpoint on the matter.
Leader of the House Thawar Chand Gehlot said there is no reason why the members should not believe PM Modi. He also appealed to the Opposition members to participate in the proceedings.
Barring Telangana Rashtra Samiti, Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party and Telugu Desam Party, other Opposition members walked out.
The Congress later welcomed the government's reiteration of India's 'no third party involvement' stand on the Kashmir issue but asked why Modi was ‘mum’ over Trump's claim.
The US president's remarks ‘relate to a meeting between him and PM Modi, wherein our PM had asked him to mediate’, Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a tweet.
‘Why is PM 'mum' on what transpired between the two heads of states, more so when it affects our sovereignty?’ Surjewala asked.
In another tweet, he tagged the remarks of Trump put out by the White House.
‘Now, 'Whitehouse' puts up @POTUS assertion in 'black & white' that PM Modi asked him to 'mediate on Kashmir'!’ he said
‘When will our PM 'wake up' & call the bluff if President Trump is lying? Or Did PM Modi ask @POTUS to mediate?’ Surjewala wondered.
Opposition leaders met in Azad's chamber in Parliament and called for suspension of all business. They also sought an explanation from the PM in both the Houses on Trump's statement.
Various opposition leaders addressed a press conference on the issue.
Flanked by Opposition leaders, including Communist Party of India's D Raja, Nationalist Congress Party's Majeed Menon, DMK's Tiruchi Siva, Samajwadi Party's Ramgopal Yadav and Aam Aadmi Party's Sanjay Singh, Azad said his party was ready to believe the prime minister's side of the story but he should clarify the issue on the floor of the House.
Trump, the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha added, was unlikely to have made the remarks in jest.
"No matter which government was in power at Centre in past, our foreign policy has been that Kashmir is bilateral issue and no third party can intervene and President Trump knows it, I don't think President Trump would tell Pakistan's PM that India's PM has asked the US to mediate," Azad said.
The Trinamool Congress' Derek O'Brien said his party wants the prime minister to make a statement on the issue to clear the air.
"Along with all opposition parties, we, Trinamool, have a simple demand. The PM of India has to come to Parliament, make a statement and clear the air," he said.
People’s Democratic Party president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said Trump's ‘disclosure’ on third party mediation on Kashmir is a ‘huge policy shift’ and India and Pakistan must seize the opportunity to forge peace through dialogue.
The Congress along with other opposition parties on Monday night had also demanded a clarification from Modi on whether there has been a shift in India's position of no third party involvement in the Kashmir issue after Trump offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on the matter.
Trump claimed that Modi asked him to mediate on the Kashmir issue when they met in Osaka, Japan, on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit last month.
"If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. If I can do anything to help, let me know," Trump said in response to a question, adding he is ready to help, if the two countries ask for it.
"I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject (Kashmir). And he actually said, 'would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?' I said, 'where?' (Modi said) 'Kashmir'," Trump said.
The moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also welcomed Trump's offer of mediation.
"People of Kashmir, being the most affected party in the conflict, have always strongly advocated resolution through dialogue at all levels and among India and Pakistan. Every effort and push in that direction is welcome," Hurriyat said in a statement.