NEW DELHI: An aggressive opposition today forced two adjournments in the Rajya Sabha protesting the controversial remarks made by union minister Anantkumar Hegde on secularism and changing the Constitution, even as the government distanced itself from the issue.
"Members have expressed concerns to which we would like to emphasise that the government is committed to the Constitution. The minister has given a statement but we do not subscribe to those views," Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel said during the Question Hour in a bid to assuage the opposition.
However, angry opposition members, many of whom were in the Well, continued to raise slogans demanding that Hegde be sacked, forcing Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu to adjourn proceedings till 2 pm.
The Upper House was adjourned till noon about 20 minutes after it had assembled for the day as several members, including those from the Congress, SP and CPI expressed outrage over Hegde's remarks and many of them rushed into the Well.
At noon, the Chairman sought to take up the Question Hour, but CPI leader D Raja beseeched him saying that as vice president he was custodian of the Constitution which was given to the country by B R Ambedkar and Hegde had made "very objectionable comments". He claimed even Ambedkar was opposed to the idea of India being a 'Hindu Rashtra'.
Another opposition member asserted that someone who had taken oath on the Constitution and then abused it had no right to continue being a minister.
As members belonging to several opposition parties including the Congress, DMK, TMC and others, protested, Naidu said he had asked the government to explain its stand on the issue.
After Goel asserted that the government did not favour the views expressed by the minister, Naidu tried to resume the Question Hour proceedings.
He then asked Leader of House Arun Jaitley to speak, but a large number of opposition members continued their protest, shouting slogans and seeking action against Hegde.
Left with no option, Naidu adjourned the proceedings till 2 PM.
Earlier, when the House met for the day, Congress, SP and BSP members trooped into the Well of the House shouting slogans seeking removal of Hegde and forcing Naidu to adjourn the proceedings till noon.
The trouble started when the papers were being laid as opposition members shouted "shame, shame" when Hegde, who is Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, rose to lay the papers listed against his name.
Leader of the Opposition and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad sought a clarification from the Minister as he could leave the House soon after laying papers.
True to this, Hegde sat in the House for a few minutes listening to the opposition protests against his controversial statement that the BJP would change the Constitution by excluding Secularism from the preamble. Soon thereafter, he left the House.
Azad asked if a minister does not believe in the Constitution, does he has a right to remain as a minister.
"Minister who has no faith in the Constitution has no right to be a minister. He has no right to be a Member of Parliament," he said.
Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (TMC) said secularism is inscribed in the preamble of the Constitution and asked if a minister is allowed to denounce the same preamble in public.
Naresh Agarwal (SP) said the Constitution is the Ramayana and Gita of democracy and any minister who abuses it and its founder Babasaheb Ambedkar should be removed.
At this, Naidu interjected to ask members not to bring Ambedkar into the controversy.
But the opposition members remained unrelenting and trooped into the well raising slogans.
Naidu asked members not to raise slogans and ordered that nothing they were saying would go on record.
He then allowed Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment and Republican Party of India founder Ramdas Athawale to speak.
Athawale praised the Prime Minister for honouring the memory of Ambedkar with a fitting memorial and said it was Congress which had insulted Ambedkar.
"Don't create a ruckus. You are going to be defeated in general elections in 2019 and 2024," Athawale told the opposition.
Subramanian Swamy (BJP) claimed Ambedkar did not include the word secularism in the Constitution.
Naidu tried to restore order but all his efforts went in vain. "How much should I tolerate. This is not acceptable. This is not done," he said as slogan shouting continued unabated.
As opposition members continued their noisy protest and demanded a discussion on the issue, Naidu said no discussion can take place without a proper notice.
He then adjourned the proceedings till 1200 hours.