JAMMU, Jan 2: As expected, budget session of the Legislature today began on an unprecedented stormy note with almost entire Opposition disrupting Governor NN Vohra’s Address to joint session of the Legislature forcing him to cut short his Address and leave the Central Hall of Legislature within 15 minutes. Even respect to national anthem was given a go by with Opposition going ahead with their protests when it was being played as the Governor ended his speech abruptly.
The MLAs of major Opposition parties including National Conference, Congress, CPM and PDF, who had formed a united front yesterday to protest what they called “miserable failure” of PDP-BJP coalition Government, had come well prepared to disrupt the Governor’s Address to joint session of the Legislature, which marks start of the budget session.
Former Chief Minister and National Conference working president Omar Abdullah, who was instrumental in uniting the Opposition parties at a dinner meeting last night at his residence, was significantly absent during the Governor’s Address as well as the Assembly. However, a number of Opposition MLAs had come prepared carrying placards with them and wearing black dresses started their protest about five minutes ahead of the arrival of Governor.
Insiders explained that since Vohra had been the Governor during entire six-year tenure of Omar Abdullah as the Chief Minister (2008-2014) and it was his Government, which had favoured extension of Vohra in 2013 after completion of his five-year term, Omar didn’t deem it fit to join the protests against the same Governor and, therefore, stayed away from today’s proceedings.
Carrying placards like `Stop Telling Lies’, `Revoke PSA (Public Safety Act)’, `Stop Human Rights Violations’ and `Stop Killings’ etc, the National Conference and Congress MLAs went furious as the Governor entered Central Hall of Legislature at the stroke of 11 am and upped the ante by indulging in massive sloganeering against the PDP-BJP Government, Kashmir unrest and other issues.
Independent MLA Engineer Rashid was carrying his separate protest with banner demanding holding of plebiscite in both parts of divided Kashmir. Rest of the Opposition members including those of NC, Congress, MY Tarigami (CPM) and Hakim Mohammad Yasin (PDF) were united in their protests. Another Independent MLA Pawan Gupta was silent.
The PDP, BJP and People’s Conference, the three coalition partners in the Government, were silent all through the Opposition protests in the Central Hall of Legislature. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was present in the Hall during the protests. She had taken her seat about five minutes before 11 am while Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh was sitting in the Hall since 10.20 am.
This was for the first time since 1996 when the Assembly was revived after seven years of Governor and President rule that some of the Opposition members stood on the benches while other reached very close to the podium from where the Governor was addressing.
Amidst massive sloganeering like `Qatil Sarkaar Hai Hai’, `PDP-BJP Sarkaar Hai Hai’, `PDP Ka Badlaab Kaya, Boli Se Nahin, Goli Se’ etc, the Governor waited for couple of minutes for things to settle down to start his Address but finding situation worsening with every passing minute, he finally started his speech after about five minutes of his arrival to the Hall. However, finding his voice lost in the din created by the Opposition MLAs, the Governor had to stop his speech.
He made three attempts to go ahead with the Address but every time, his voice was not heard as the Opposition MLAs had virtually surrounded his podium and were raising slogans with their full throat. Some of the MLAs were also seen thumping the benches to disrupt the Governor’s Address.
Finally, the Governor gave up his efforts to address the Legislature, ended his speech abruptly within 15 minutes and started walking down. At this time, the band started playing National Anthem. While the Governor was walking, the Opposition members were engaged in massive sloganeering and protests against the Government showing least respect to the anthem. The band also abruptly stopped playing the anthem.
This was the third time when Vohra had to cut short his Address to joint session of the Legislature following protests by the Opposition since 2008.
Disrespect to National Anthem was taken up vigorously by the BJP later. Speaking to reporters after the Governor left the Central Hall of Legislature, BJP MLA Ravinder Raina demanded an apology from the Governor, AICC (I) president Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
Raina said, the BJP can’t tolerate disrespect to National Anthem and it was duty of every citizen of this country to uphold its sanctity. He said Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi owed an explanation for disrespect shown to National Anthem by their State party legislators.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister and veteran PDP leader Abdul Rehman Veeri took on the Opposition very strongly saying their protests were pre-planned, which was evident from the fact that they had come with placards, flags and wearing black dresses.
“PDP too had resorted to protests as an Opposition party but never stooped to such a level. We never disrespected the national anthem,” he said, describing such kind of protests as “unfortunate”. Veeri said the opposition protests were completely unprovoked as the Government benches were all through silent.
Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Rigzin Jora said as the Governor was also walking and sound of Anthem was very low, his party legislators didn’t recognize that the National Anthem was being played.
National Conference MLA Devender Singh Rana said the party members fully respected the National Anthem and there was no disrespect.
“When the National Anthem was played for the first time, our MLAs stood silently. However, second time, the National Anthem was either not played or it was not audible,” Rana said.
Rana said, “Please ask BJP people who became champions of nationalism. They created an environment of anarchy in the State. Ask PDP who created such an environment. They created such a situation”.
“Please ask them to answer as to why there was disrespect to the anthem today. We have not disrespected the anthem…It was the ruling party which provoked us. It was their conspiracy. Please ask them”.
When the national anthem was played for the first time on arrival of the Governor, the Opposition MLAs, who had already started their protests, calmed down on being pointed out by Congress MLA Usmaan Majid.
Though the protests and disruption of Governor’s Address were not new, generally the Opposition protests for few minutes to keep their point and then either take seats or stage walk-out to facilitate the Governor to Address joint session of the Legislature. Today, however, the situation was quite contrast to what used to happen earlier with entire Opposition starting protests well before arrival of the Governor and keeping up them till the Governor left the Legislature Hall within 15 minutes.
Reacting to the protests, Government spokesman and Education Minister Naeem Akhter told reporters that whatever happened today was very unfortunate and sad.
“These MLAs belonging to the opposition are experienced …I think they have lost the plot. If this is the beginning, I don’t know how they are going to conduct themselves for rest of the session”, he said.
Slamming the opposition, Akhter said, “Whatever they wanted to raise should have been done on the floor of the House and the Government would have accordingly replied to their questions and concerns”.
BJP MLA Ravinder Raina charged that the Congress and NC don’t want the situation in Jammu and Kashmir to improve and peace and normalcy restored.
“This Government is working very hard to improve the situation in Kashmir valley and development works have also started but opposition is hell bent on derailing peace which can be witnessed from the protests and unruly behaviour of the opposition”, he said demanding that they apologize.
Speaking to reporters outside the Assembly, CLP leader, Nawang Rigzin Jora said, the Government should give account of those who died during the Kashmir unrest.”They should give account of the pellet gun injuries…It is a killer Government. It is a pellet gun sarkar,” he charged.
Jora said it was not unrest but “mass uprising” against the PDP-BJP Government.
“The PDP had taken votes by claiming that it was only party capable of stopping Modi. But after the elections, the PDP went into the lap of Modi. This has provoked the people of Kashmir,” Jora said.
He said the BJP had been campaigning against “Do Vidhaan, Do Nishaan’ but their Ministers were using two flags on their car. “The BJP has forgotten Article 370 and was giving just identity cards to West Pakistan refugees as against Permanent Resident Certificates promised to them,” he said.
National Conference MLA and party general secretary, Ali Mohammad Sagar alleged that over 100 people were killed and a large number injured due to pellet guns during the unrest.
“We are representatives of the people. We demand replies from them. And today’s protest is because of the failure of this Government,” he said.
CPI (M) MLA and senior leader M Y Tarigami charged that that Government imposed martial law-like measures here as if something big and untoward was going to happen here and the opposition protests were a result of this.
“The tradition of placement of treasury benches and opposition benches was changed. When the Governor came, we raised the issue of killing of people in Kashmir valley. We wanted a reply from the Government. The opposition demanded ban on pellet guns, stopping of human rights violations and imposition of Public Safety Act and random arrests”, Tarigami said.