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Conversion row stalls Rajya Sabha, government suggests ban
Monday December 15, 2014 9:41 PM, IANS

Proceedings in the Rajya Sabha continued to be disrupted Monday and led to the house's adjournment for the day as opposition members kept up their protest over conversions and demanded Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak on the issue even as the government suggested a ban on the practice.

Though the government agreed to a discussion, the opposition was not ready to relent unless Prime Minister Modi participated.

"The opposition can take the decision... There is no difference in opinion that such incidents (forced conversions) shall stop. Is the opposition wanting ban on conversion or forced conversions?" Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said as adjournments marred the proceedings of the upper house, where the opposition is in the majority.

The issue is expected to echo Tuesday as well, with opposition refusing to relent without a statement by the prime minister.

Government sources however said they will table the insurance bill in the upper house in any case.

The opposition has been protesting in wake of recent reports of conversion of Muslims to Hinduism, and also Bharatiya Janata Party MP Yogi Adityanath' comment supporting a mass conversion programme.

Adityanath reportedly said that there is nothing wrong if people re-convert to Hinduism if they are doing it willingly.

Protests started Monday as soon as the house met for the day, when Congress leader Anand Sharma raised the issue and said they had given a notice for suspension of question hour.

"There is a serious situation in the country. An organisation that calls itself a social organisation, has started a controversial programme on 'ghar wapsi (home-coming)'," he said.

The house was then adjourned by Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien till 12 noon.

As proceedings resumed, the entire opposition appeared united as the adjournment notice was submitted by the Congress. While the motion was not accepted by Chairman M. Hamid Ansari, who was in the chair, the government agreed for a discussion.

Protests continued in the question hour, forcing Ansari to adjourn the house for 10 minutes and then till 2 p.m.

In the post-lunch session, the uproar continued and opposition members said they wanted Modi to assure the house that such incidents will stop.

On the government's side, Jaitley, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and Home Minister Rajnath Singh were present in the house, and offered to take up the discussion immediately.

However, opposition parties insisted that Modi be called to speak.

"The incidents that are happening are a violation of the Constitution, and people related to ruling party are doing this," Sharma alleged.

Jaitley dismissed the opposition's stand, saying they did not want a debate, but only to disrupt the house.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury then said mere discussion is not enough.

Kurien said it is for government to decide who will answer the debate, also asking if the member was questioning the home minister's competence.

Members from the Congress and the Samajwadi Party then trooped near the chairman's podium, raising slogans. Other opposition members were seen raising slogans standing at their seats.

In the din, the house was adjourned for half an hour, and later for the day.

Talking to reporters later, Sharma slammed the government for suggesting a ban on conversions.

"It is out of the purview of constitution. State does not have a religion, and it cannot tell people what religion to follow," he said.

Sources from the BJP said there is no scope for the prime minister to come to the Rajya Sabha Tuesday as well as he is engaged in campaigning for the assembly elections in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir - where the last round of the five phase polls will take place Dec 20.

However, a senior BJP leader said government is confident of tabling the insurance bill in the upper house Tuesday, even if the opposition continues the disruptions.A

He also expressed confidence over getting the bill, which raises the Foreign Direct Investment cap in insurance sector to 49 percent, will be passed in the winter session.

The government is in a minority in the upper house and is counting on the Congress's support for the passage of the contentious bill. Congress had backed the report on the bill by a select panel of the house.

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