Assam's chief minister Tarun Gogoi has controversially declared that his state, ravaged by violence in the last month, is "sitting on a volcano." A fiery eruption of that volcano blistered parliament today, when, while initiating a debate on the crisis in Assam, BJP leader LK Advani made a remark about the legitimacy of the Congress-led government at the centre.
The usually inscrutable Sonia Gandhi, who heads the Congress, was visibly furious. She then turned to her MPs and signaled that they must retaliate. In the chaos that followed, Mrs Gandhi was seen mouthing the words "withdraw, withdraw." It was hard for even those near her to hear her through the angry cries of the Congress, but sources said she asked senior ministers to get "that one word" removed.
Mr Advani, initially reluctant to capitulate, later withdrew his remark. He explained that he had not meant to question the results of the 2009 general elections, which brought the UPA to power for a second term. The BJP veteran said what he had meant was that the Congress-led coalition won a trust vote in 2008 after "crores of rupees were spent." The Prime Minister later described Mr Advani's comment "as disgraceful."
When the new Leader of the Lok Sabha, Sushil Kumar Shinde, stood up to say,"Advani ji is a senior leader. We all respect him. But today he has said the entire (2009) election was illegitimate. This is an insult for all of us. I think he should withdraw his words," Mrs Gandhi nodded in approval.
It was Mr Shinde's first day leading the Congress in the Lok Sabha -a job performed with such expertise by Pranab Mukherjee that even the opposition acknowledged his skills. But Mr Mukherjee was elected President of India last month. On the day of India's worst blackout ever, the government announced that Mr Shinde, who was Power Minister, would get the crucial Home Ministry.
Mrs Gandhi's son, Rahul, who was in parliament, refused to comment on Mr Advani's remarks. "He is a senior person, he knows what he is saying," Mr Gandhi said.
Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress later said, "Mrs Gandhi was hurt by LK Advani's remarks."
The BJP, however, was unimpressed. Spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said, "The Congress should apologise for disrupting Parliament. Mr Advani said the right thing referring to cash for votes. Make no mistake, in the Congress, the real power always lies with the Gandhis - Sonia and Rahul."