The Winter Session of parliament began today with the opposition targeting the government over the absence of veteran politician Farooq Abdullah, who has been held under detention at his residence in Srinagar since the centre's decision on Article 370 in August and charged with "disturbing public order" under the strict Public Safety Act. As the final strains of the national anthem sounded in the Lok Sabha, Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy said: "Sir... Dr Farooq Abdullah yahe pe nahi hain (Sir, Dr Farooq Abdullah is not here)".
"Either instruct the government to release him or Home Minister should make a statement in the House," Mr Roy added. To this the Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla would only say: "Pahele naye members ko oath lene de (First let the new members take their oaths)".
Despite the Speaker's attempts to restore order, opposition leaders were quick to follow up on Saugata Roy's question, with MPs from the Congress, Mr Abdullah's National Conference and the DMK raising slogans like "vipaksh par hamla bandh karo, Farooq Abdullah ji ko riha karo (Stop attacking the opposition, free Farooq Abdullah)" and approaching the Well.
"I am ready to discuss all issues. Please go to your seats... This House is not for sloganeering but for debates and discussions," Speaker Om Birla said as he tried to control the situation.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhur then spoke out strongly on the situation in Kashmir, criticising the government for allowing a private delegation of European Union MPs to visit after preventing its own parliamentarians the same.
"Our leader Rahul Gandhi was not allowed to visit (Jammu and Kashmir), several MPs were sent back...whereas bhade ke tatu (hired agents) from Europe were being taken there. Isn't it an insult
to all MPs?" Mr Chowdhury demanded of the government.
"It has been 108 days today since Farooq Abdullah-ji was detained. Yeh kya zulm ho raha hai (what kind of injustice is happening)? He should be brought to the Parliament. It is his constitutional right," he added.
लोकसभा में कांग्रेस के नेता श्री @adhirrcinc ने संसद में कश्मीर मुद्दे और कांग्रेस अध्यक्ष श्रीमती सोनिया गाँधी, श्री @RahulGandhi और श्रीमती @priyankagandhi की एसपीजी सुरक्षा हटाने का मुद्दा उठाया। pic.twitter.com/gjKRcJvBEQ— Congress (@INCIndia) November 18, 2019
DMK leader TR Baalu also spoke out on the matter, calling Mr Abdullah's detention "illegal". "It is for you to interfere," he said, addressing Speaker.
Amid chaotic scenes and shouting parliamentarians, the Trinamool Congress then submitted an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha over Farooq Abdullah's release.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a strong critic of the centre's Article 370 decision, said her party demanded that both Mr Abdullah and his son, as well as Ms Mufti, be freed immediately in the interests of democracy.
In response to the flurry of questions and demands, Speaker Om Birla reminded the Lok Sabha that when Amit Shah informed the House, in a previous session, that Mr Abdullah was not under detention, he was technically correct.
Written information of his detention was received later by the Lok Sabha secretariat, the Speaker added, saying that he now had confirmation that Mr Abdullah was under detention.
The continued detention of political leaders in Kashmir, including National Conference leaders Mr Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, all three of whom are former Chief Ministers, has been flagged as a key issue to be raised in the parliament session that started today.
At an all-party meeting held on Sunday, Mr Chowdhury had indicated the issue of Farooq Abdullah's detention would one of the issues raised before the government.
"...a number of members have raised the issue especially about the detention of Farooq Abdullah. He should be allowed to attend the discussion in the House," Mr Chowdhury said.
"Abdullah is one of the senior-most MPs. Government is under constitutional obligation to ensure his participation in the session...he is representing the people of Srinagar and they can't be left without representation," Hasnain Masoodi, a National Conference MP, said after the meet.
Meanwhile, the Congress has also called on the government to allow its leader, P Chidambaram, to attend parliament. The former Finance and Home Minister, who tweeted this morning urging his party to hold the ruling BJP to account over "utter mismanagement" of the economy, is currently in Delhi's Tihar Jail in connection with the INX Media case.
With input from IANS, ANI, PTI