In Pro Tem Speaker Row, Kiren Rijiju Slams Congress, Says "Am Ashamed"

The Congress was expecting Kodikunnil Suresh, a Dalit leader and an eight-time MP from Kerala, to be named Pro Tem Speaker.

Kiren Rijiju, the former Law Minister, is Parliamentary Affairs Minister in the Modi 3.0 cabinet (File).

New Delhi:

The BJP and the Congress have gone to the mattresses, again.

This time the two are fighting over the appointment of BJP leader and seven-time MP Bhartruhari Mahtab as Pro Tem Speaker, a post active only for the first days of a new Parliament. The Pro Tem leader usually administers the oath to new MPs and conducts the election for a full-time Speaker.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to announce the new Speaker's name on Wednesday, two days after the first sitting of the newly elected 18th Lok Sabha. Once the Speaker is elected - by a simple majority, meaning the BJP's pick is unlikely to fail - the Pro Tem's post ceases to exist.

The Congress - which was expecting Kodikunnil Suresh, a Dalit leader and an eight-time MP from Kerala, to be named Pro Tem - has criticised the BJP over the appointment of Mr Mahtab. Senior leader KC Venugopal called it "an attempt to destroy democratic and parliamentary norms..."

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"Government should explain why it chose to overlook K Suresh... what was the factor that disqualified him? Are there deeper issues... perhaps beyond just seniority," he asked.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju hit back Friday, stating "I have to say it with great regret... I feel ashamed that the Congress talks like this. I was hoping that this Lok Sabha session would start with a good mood... and that we can have a productive and co-operative parliament meet."

"But what I have been seeing since yesterday, especially the issue that Congress has created regarding Pro Tem Speaker... Congress is doing so many wrong things it is trying to mislead people."

"Congress said we violated the rules while appointing Pro Tem Speaker. I want to tell you... whatever steps were taken to were done according to the rules...Congress should not do politics..."

Mr Rijiju said tradition dictates the longest continuously-serving MP is appointed as Pro Tem, and that the choice is Bhartruhari Mahtab, who won Cuttack from 1998 to 2019 as part of ex-Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's BJD before jumping to the BJP this year to win a seventh consecutive term.

Sources told NDTV Mr Mahtab is also being considered for the full-time post.

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Meanwhile, Mr Suresh and four others - the DMK's TR Baalu, the Trinamool's Sudip Bandyopadhyay, and the BJP's Radha Mohan Singh and Faggan Kulaste - have been appointed to assist Mr Mahtab.

Add image caption here

Seven-time Lok Sabha MP from Odisha's Cuttack, Bhartruhari Mahtab

Mr Rijiju told press the selection of a Pro Tem Speaker is based on the 'father of the House' concept from the British parliament, in which the longest continuously-serving MP is given the title.

It was in line with that custom that Mr Mahtab was chosen as Pro Tem, Mr Rijiju said as he also criticised the Congress for deriding the Odisha MP, who is one of the senior-most members.

There were, however, exceptions in 1956 and 1977, news agency PTI said. In '56 Sardar Hukam Singh was named Pro Tem followed by DN Tiwari in '77. Neither were then the senior-most members.

Responding to the Congress' fierce attacks, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju also acknowledged Mr Suresh as an eight-time MP but pointed to breaks in 1998 and 2004. "So it is not consecutive," he said. Mr Mahtab, he underlined, had won Cuttack seven consecutive times.

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Mr Rijiju also hit back at Mr Suresh's claims that the appointment of the Odisha MP showed the BJP "will continue to bypass parliamentary procedure..." The Congress leader was referring to the election of Virendra Kumar Khatik in 2019; Mr Khatik then was a seven-time consecutive MP with wins from Madhya Pradesh's Sagar between 1996 and 2004, and in Tikamgarh from 2009 to 2019.

In the 17th Lok Sabha there was also the BJP's Maneka Gandhi, then an eight-time MP but with one break; she won Uttar Pradesh's Pilibhit in 1989 (with the Janata Dal) and then lost in 1991 to the BJP's Parashuram, before claiming seven straight Lok Sabha wins between 1996 and 2019.

Mr Rijiju pointed out Mrs Gandhi was not Pro Tem in 2019 due to the break.

Earlier the Congress' Mr Suresh claimed Mrs Gandhi had, in fact, been offered the post but turned it down as she had not been made a Union Minister.

"The senior-most MPs then were myself and Khatik, who was chosen. This time too, we are senior-most. He was made a cabinet minister and therefore, automatically, as per Lok Sabha rules, I should have been made Pro Tem," he said.

"My name was recommended but when the government sent recommendations to President Droupadi Murmu... my name was avoided," he claimed.

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The first session of the 18th Lok Sabha will begin June 24, with the new MPs taking oath.

With input from agencies

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