New Delhi: The government and the opposition locked horns in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday as the treasury benches sought to contradict Congress member Kumari Selja's claim of having faced caste discrimination at a Gujarat temple when she was a union minister.
The Rajya Sabha faced three adjournments in the pre-lunch session before being adjourned till 2 p.m.
When the house met, uproar erupted again with Congress members seeking a government apology. The party was supported by other opposition parties, who contended that the issue had been unnecessarily raked up by leader of the house - and Finance Minister - Arun Jaitley.
Opposition leaders, including Derek O'Brien of Trinamool Congress, Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Naresh Agrawal of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and K.C. Tyagi of Janata Dal-United (JD-U), besides others, said the government should apologise and move on to discuss the floods situation in Tamil Nadu.
Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien was seen making attempts to pacify both sides.
Leaders from both sides later agreed to proceed with the discussion on the Tamil Nadu floods.
The issue was raked up on Wednesday morning, when Leader of the House Arun Jaitley referred to Selja's comment made during the discussion on the Constitution that she was once enquired about her caste at Dwarka temple in Gujarat when she was a union minister.
Jaitley said that contrary to her claim, Selja's comments in the visitors' book of the temple were full of "complimentary words".
He read out her comments which read: "With Lord Krishna's blessings, had a very good darshan. The upkeep and maintenance of the premises is excellent. May the Lord bless all those who are fortunate enough to come here for his blessings."
To this, Selja said she had clarified that the incident did not occur in the main temple. "I made it very clear it was not the main Dwarka temple. The Leader of the House should not make rude gestures like this. In Dwarka temple, the priests were very good."
"It was 'bet Dwarka'," she said.
Selja was supported by other Congress members, while those on the treasury benches slammed her for making false remarks. "It is a manufactured discrimination," union minister Piyush Goyal said.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi accused Selja of misleading the house. "You have misled the house. If this is your handwriting, you should apologise," he said.
The protesting Congress members came near the chairman's podium, forcing the deputy chairman to adjourn the house briefly.
The Rajya Sabha was again adjourned till 12 noon, and then till 2 p.m.
The issue continued to disrupt the house in the post-lunch session as well.
Trinamool Congress member Derek O'Brien said the government should apologise. "This is almost like calling her a liar," he said.
CPI-M's Yechury said: "I was about to congratulate the government on their brilliant strategy of calling the Constitution Day and deflecting attention away from the Bihar defeat. Why unnecessarily inflict a self- wound?"
To this, Naqvi said that if the Congress leader did not refer to the Dwarka temple, the reference to the temple should be deleted from the record.
Kurien then called Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, asking him to resolve the issue along with the government.
"Something has been said by treasury bench which should not have been said. There was no need of raking up this issue again. We had decided to make it possible to pass as many bill as possible today... we should come to some conclusion. I would also like to make it clear from my party, entire house is concerned about flood," said Azad.
Kurien then adjourned the house and called leaders from both sides to discuss the issue.
The house witnessed several brief adjournments after that, as leaders discussed the issue, meeting again at 3.30 p..m. when Kurien announced that the discussion on the Tamil Nadu floods would be taken up and the Selja issue would be handled on Thursday morning by Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari.
During the discussion on the Constitution and the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of B.R. Ambedkar on Monday, Selja had mentioned about her unhappy experience at the Dwarka temple when she was a union minister.