The standoff escalates: the BJP claims Rahul Gandhi is part of its toolset, while the Congress suspects a plan in the Lok Sabha audio loss.

The war of words between the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress heated up on Friday, with the BJP accusing Rahul Gandhi of violating “India’s sovereignty” on foreign soil and the Congress retaliating by seeking a breach of privilege notice against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for remarks directed at the Gandhi family.

A new row emerged among the bitter discussions that halted Parliament for the fifth straight day when Sansad TV coverage of Lok Sabha sessions remained silent. There was no audio connectivity for all but 1.20 minutes of the House’s 21-minute session before Speaker Om Birla adjourned it until Monday.

While the Lok Sabha Secretariat claimed that the audio link was unavailable because of a “technical issue” at the official broadcaster’s end, the Congress stated it was another ploy to “suppress voices in Parliament” and called it a “fatal blow to democracy”.

Before the House reassembled for the day, BJP president J P Nadda, in a video address, said, “It’s sad that the Congress party is engaged in anti-national actions. Rahul Gandhi has now become a permanent part of this anti-nationalist toolset after being repeatedly rejected by the public.”

The Lok Sabha session began at 11 a.m. with the now-familiar sight and sound of MPs on their feet, screaming slogans for and against Rahul, who sat silently as Congress members trooped to the Well in his defence. Sonia Gandhi, the former president of the Congress Party, was also present in the House.

Speaker Birla announced Question Period, and Congress MP Manish Tewari’s name was called first. Sansad TV went silent at 11.01 a.m., as Tewari began speaking amid chants of “Rahul Gandhi maafi maango” (Rahul Gandhi apologise).

Tewari’s query was if the Supreme Court Collegium had used R&AW allegations about the sexuality of an attorney being considered for nomination as a judge.

The broadcaster telecast pictures from the House for the following 20 minutes, and the audio returned irregularly for a total of 1.21 minutes.

The audio was briefly restored as Tewari pleaded with the Speaker to restore order in the House so that he could speak. The recording would reappear for five seconds at 19.10 minutes when the opposition was chanting slogans against the administration and alleging links with the Adani Company.

Simultaneously, Congress MPs were heard yelling, “Rahulji ko bolne do!” (let Rahul speak). There was no let-up as BJP members demanded that Gandhi apologise for his remarks about the state of Indian democracy in the UK.

As the commotion persisted in the Parliament, Union Ministers such as Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, S Jaishankar, Jitendra Singh, Kiren Rjiju, Smriti Irani, Anurag Thakur, and Arjun Munda were there. The audio resumed at 19.59 minutes.

“We are listening to you,” Congress Legislator Gaurav Gogoi was heard saying to Birla. The opposition will take their seats; please allow Rahulji to speak.”

“I suggest that the House operate,” Birla remarked, motioning to the MPs to return to their seats several times. You were not sent to shout slogans. The country’s citizens are watching. I will allow everyone to speak if the House is called to order. But if you continue to stand in this situation, I will not allow you to talk. “The house must be in order.”

The Speaker adjourned the proceedings at 21.10 minutes and will resume on Monday.

So far, the second half of the Budget session, which began on March 13, has been a washout, with daily disruptions impeding House operations.

Following the adjournment, the Congress said that it had filed a notice of a question of privilege against the Prime Minister with Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar under Rule 188 of the Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Upper House.

The move was undertaken by Congress general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal in response to the BJP’s attack against Rahul. The Congress rebuttal depended on the PM’s words when he replied to the Motion of Appreciation in the President’s address in February on the “family” not using the “Nehru” surname.

Venugopal labelled Modi’s views “preposterous” in a letter to Dhankhar. He claimed that the PM’s words, which the Congress also criticised then, “are not only shameful but also offensive and defamatory vis-a-vis the members of the Nehru family, particularly Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who are members of the Lok Sabha”.

Also Read |BBC and Rahul Gandhi on agricultural protests: The BJP’s ‘toolkit’ jab

“I seek privilege proceedings against Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, for making derogatory, insulting, distasteful, and defamatory remarks against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, which amounted to a breach of their privileges as well as contempt of the House,” Rajya Sabha member Venugopal said.

“I find it very remarkable that we may at times miss out on invoking the name of (Jawaharlal) Nehruji, and we will also correct ourselves because he was the country’s first Prime Minister,” Modi said in his speech on February 9. Yet I’m not sure why none of them uses the surname, Nehru. What’s the big deal about using the Nehru surname? Such a great personality is unacceptable to you and the family?”.

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