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Sonia-Irani row: Opposition alleges Cong chief heckled by BJP leader

New Delhi: A bitter face-off between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Union minister Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha chamber on Thursday escalated the already raging row over Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury calling President Droupadi Murmu “rashtrapatni”.

Chowdhury’s reference to Murmu, India’s first tribal President, triggered a war of words between the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi demanding an apology from Gandhi.

As the Lok Sabha adjourned soon after 12 noon, Gandhi walked across to the Treasury benches and sought to know from BJP member Rama Devi why she was dragged into the issue.

Irani was seen gesturing towards Gandhi and raising slogans ‘maafi maango‘ (apologise) along with a few women members of the BJP as the Congress president continued her chat with Rama Devi, the Lok Sabha member from Sheohar in Bihar.

Seeing Gandhi surrounded by sloganeering BJP members, NCP member Supriya Sule and Trinamool member Aparupa Poddar stepped forward to escort Gandhi away, while Parliamentary Affairs Minister Joshi tried to calm the treasury benches.

An ugly war of words broke out between the BJP and the opposition as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman alleged that Gandhi had spoken in a “threatening tone” to a BJP member, an apparent reference to Irani.

Later, Rama Devi told the media that Gandhi sought to know why her name was dragged into the issue. “What is my fault,” Gandhi asked Rama Devi.

Rama Devi, the BJP member from Sheohar in Bihar, said she told Gandhi that her fault was that she had selected Chowdhury as the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha.

As the BJP stepped up the heat on Gandhi, leaders across the opposition spectrum rallied behind the Congress president claiming that she was “encircled, heckled pack-wolf style” by the BJP members.

“Today one of the most senior leaders of India who is both an elderly lady, recovering from Covid was attacked. She was subject to insults by one Union Minister and was on the verge of being pushed and injured by the BJP MPs,” Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha Gaurav Gogoi said.

“Was in Lok Sabha when (a) 75-year-old lady senior leader encircled & heckled pack-wolf style when all she did was walk over & speak (masked) to another senior lady panel chairperson,” Trinamool Congress member Mahaua Moitra said.

Sule and Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member Priyanka Chaturvedi also spoke in support of Gandhi.

Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Jairam Ramesh met Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla demanding action against Irani.

With Chowdhury’s remarks dominating the political discourse, BJP women members were seated in the front rows in the Lok Sabha as they led the protests in the House against the Congress leader in the lower house.

Sitharaman claimed that Gandhi told BJP members “you don’t talk to me” when they sought to know what the issue was being discussed.

“Instead of tendering an apology, she is misleading by claiming that Adhir Chowdhury has already apologized. Instead of an apology, she is resorting to threats,” Sitharaman said referring to the incident in the Lok Sabha chamber.

Hitting back, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh termed Irani’s behavior as “outrageous”.

“Atrocious and outrageous behavior by Union Minister Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha today! But will she be pulled up by the Speaker? Are rules only meant for the Opposition,” AICC general secretary Ramesh said on Twitter.

Former union minister Milind Deora said he had never seen Gandhi being rude or impolite, even when provoked.

“This is not the first time that she has been targeted personally and of late, unjustly, both inside & outside Parliament. She has and will always endure,” Deora said on Twitter.