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Acrimonious scenes in RS on Day 1: Congress takes on govt over women’s Bill, GST dues; ruling side counters

The setting was new, but the scenes were familiar. The first sitting of Rajya Sabha in the new Parliament building saw members from the opposition Congress and the Treasury benches get into a heated exchange over Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge’s remarks on the manner in which political parties select women candidates from weaker sections of society, as well as GST payments due to non-BJP ruled states.

Speaking after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kharge suggested that the women’s reservation Bill should have reservation for OBCs, too.

Stating that women from the Scheduled Castes and ‘backward’ castes and classes are generally not that educated, he said, “…because of that, all political parties — I am not speaking about any one party — have a tendency of giving tickets to weak women [candidates]…” Members of the Treasury benches interrupted him and rose in protest. Amid the uproar, Kharge said he was talking about one-third tickets and argued, “I know how parties pick candidates from Scheduled Castes and backward classes…. People from weaker sections are always given tickets…woh muh nahi kholna.. uss party main baat bhi nahin karna…”

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman countered Kharge and said he cannot make such “sweeping statements”. “We respect the Leader of the Opposition but to make a sweeping statement that all parties choose women who are not effective is absolutely unacceptable…. I speak on behalf of all our women [leaders]…we have all been empowered by our party, by our Prime Minister. President Droupadi Murmu-ji is an empowered woman. Every (woman) MP of my party is an empowered woman,” she said.

“To make a sweeping statement… it might represent their party [the Congress], although it has had women presidents… in spite of that they [Congress] can’t have women who are empowered,” she said.

As Kharge hit back, asserting that women from SC and backward communities do not get the kind of opportunities Sitharaman gets, the Finance Minister asked: “Who is President Droupadi Murmu? The Opposition leader cannot insult people like this; cannot draw a differentiation between women…. We are asking for reservation for all women — the President is a woman from the tribal community.”

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Kharge’s remark that India’s federal structure is being weakened under Modi’s leadership also drew sharp reactions from the Treasury benches. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said the Prime Minister’s speech was totally “apolitical”, unbiased and balanced, and urged an experienced leader like Kharge to speak like a “statesman”.

The Congress leader’s charge that the Centre is delaying paying GST dues to non-BJP state governments drew protests as well, with Sitharaman countering him: “A factually incorrect statement has been made by the Leader of the Opposition…. I have even borrowed money and paid the states — at least one or two months in advance each time. Three times we have paid the money in advance. There is no money pending for any state on GST. No delayed payments on GST. I will give you the complete data.”

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Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar asked both Sitharaman and Kharge to table documents supporting their remarks.

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