"Parliament Insulted": PM Refers To Paper-Snatching, "Papri Chaat" Remark

Monsoon session: PM Modi's attack came as Congress MP Rahul Gandhi led a breakfast meeting of 15 opposition parties in Delhi today, after which they cycled to parliament.

Monsoon Session: PM Modi was addressing a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party this morning

New Delhi:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday morning renewed his attack on the opposition, once again accusing it of not allowing Parliament's monsoon session to function. He said repeated adjournments forced by a vociferous opposition were "an insult to the constitution... to democracy and to the public".

"Parliament is being insulted by the acts of the Opposition in both Houses. The person who snatched the paper and tore it is not repentant of his acts," the Prime Minister told BJP MPs at a meeting today.

He was referring to Trinamool MP Santanu Sen who snatched IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw's papers, as he was about to make a statement on the Pegasus scandal.

The Prime Minister also referred to "derogatory comments by a senior MP regarding passage of bills" - a reference to Trinamool MP Derek O'Brien's "passing laws or making papri chaat?" tweet.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chair MA Naqvi also hit out at Mr O'Brien; Mr Joshi said: "We are ready to discuss all bills... We don't want to rush through... one member from Trinamool has insulted Parliament. He should apologise to the country."

The Trinamool has responded by demanding the government first answer how legislation can be passed amid protests by the opposition; senior MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy also told NDTV that Union Minister Hardeep Puri had "abused our MP, Santanu Sen, with filth".

"If a dozen bills are passed in the Rajya Sabha amid uproar... is this a parliamentary system? Government should answer this first... Hardeep Puri abused our MP, Shantanu Sen, with filth. I complained in writing... but why has no action been taken? 10 party MPs are ready to testify," he said.

This is the second time in a week the Prime Minister has lashed out at the opposition over fierce protests in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha over a number of issues, including the Pegasus phone-hacking row, the government's handling of the pandemic, and the farmers' protest.

Last week he singled out the Congress and accused it of spurning attempts at resolving an impasse that has seen little, if any, work conducted in this session of Parliament.

The Prime Minister's attack today came as Congress MP Rahul Gandhi led a breakfast meeting of 15 opposition parties - the second this week.

Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra, the NCP's Supriya Sule, Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena, and the DMK's Kanimozhi were among those present as the opposition underlined their united front.

After a similar meeting last week, Mr Gandhi and other opposition leaders declared PM Modi had "inserted a weapon in our phones" and used it to "hit the soul of India's democracy".

The unrelenting face-off between the government and the opposition (already at odds over the Covid situation and the farmers' protests) escalated sharply after the Pegasus allegations published by a consortium of media houses around the world, including The Wire from India.

Rahul Gandhi is among those whose phones were allegedly a target for surveillance, as were master poll strategist Prashant Kishor and businessman Anil Ambani.

The opposition has demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe, as well as a discussion in Parliament with both the Prime Minister and Home Minister Amit Shah present.

The Congress has also said the government is to blame for the non-functioning of parliament, as it has not agreed to demands made by an "united" opposition.

The government has insisted surveillance of the alleged kind is impossible given existing checks and balances in India's legal framework. It has also referred to IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw's statement in Parliament and indicated it considers the matter closed.

Undaunted, last week Bengal became the first state to order a judicial inquiry. Party MP Abhishek Banerjee, who is Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's nephew, is also on the list of alleged targets.

Little business been conducted in Parliament since the Pegasus row erupted July 18.

The monsoon session began the following day - July 19.

The government has claimed a loss of Rs 133 crore due to the disruptions; a statement via unnamed "sources" on Saturday said Parliament only functioned for 11 of a possible 107 hours.

Disclaimer: The NSO group, which owns Pegasus, admits this is spyware and is used to hack phones, but says it does business only with governments and government agencies. The Israeli company says it does not corroborate the list of potential targets reported by media companies around the world. 

Disclaimer: ​The Indian government has said there is "no substance" to the reports of Pegasus being used by it against opposition leaders, journalists and others. NDTV cannot independently verify the authenticity of the list of those who were supposedly targeted.