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Priyanka Chaturvedi Interview: 'Didn't Suspend BJP MP Who Signed for Intruders?'

On 'Badi Badi Baatein', Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi talks Parliament breach, suspension of MPs & more.

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Video Editor :Mohd. Irshad Alam

Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya, Farzan Khan, Asif Iqubal

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Senior Editor: Aditya Menon

"The Lok Sabha secretariat has Speaker and Deputy Speaker. The security comes under Deputy Speaker. Who is the Deputy Speaker of India right now? Nobody! Nobody because you don't want to appoint in the Lok Sabha," said Priyanka Chaturvedi, Rajya Sabha MP and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader, on the Parliament security breach that has taken the nation by storm.

In a week since the breach, several questions have been raised on the lapses, over 141 MPs stand suspended from both Houses for the ongoing Winter Session, and the rift between the government and the Opposition has only widened.

What baffles Chaturvedi is the lack of political accountability over the breach, which took place on the same day as the Parliament was attacked on 13 December, 2001.

However, almost 10 days since the incident, neither the Prime Minister or the Home Minister have issued any statement in the Parliament - a matter that is the fresh bone of contention between the two sides.

In a conversation on 'Badi Badi Baatein', Chaturvedi talks accountability, explains the several levels of checks that take place before entering the Parliament, and slams the government over the mass suspension of MPs from the Parliament.
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There was a massive security breach in the Parliament which shocked the whole nation. How was the atmosphere in the premises after that?

I'll tell you the situation there. Now, there is no Central Hall (like in the old Parliament). So, we don't get to know what happens in either of the Houses. When the Special Session was conducted for the new Parliament, we were told that there will be facial recognition, thumb prints, and more. The identity cards were made on that basis. We were told there are sophisticated arrangements and we are entering the most secure place in the world.

Any Parliament across the world has to be the most secure place in the world. Because you are sending a message to the world. I remember there was sloganeering once from the visitors' gallery. The previous Parliament had a gap of 25 feet between our chamber and the visitors' gallery. Now it's 10-12 feet. Anybody can jump in. I sit in the second-last row. If anybody wants to throw garbage or a pen at me, they can. I raised this on 22 September. I said that there can be a security breach with the amount of people that come. We don't know which Parliamentarian has signed (their passes).

Each MP has a limit of 10-15 people that we can allow. Nobody took cognisance of my warnings. On 12 September, Pannun had threatened to attack the Parliament like 13 December 2001. I had raised the issue but it was sidelined. Though I give credit to the chairperson that there should be cognisance of the matter but it wasn't taken. It is over-confidence that we have facial recognition, we are highly secure with technology, you are nobody to tell us because you are in the Opposition. But a mishap did take place. You imagine if they had toxic gas? What would have happened? The point is - the temple of democracy was attacked that day. You can see what the reaction was. When you raise slogans in the Parliament against it, they said it had happened before too. They say the attack has happened in the past too. Has it ever happened like this before?

When Parliament was attacked on 13 December, 22 years ago, nobody was able to come inside the Parliament. Someone was giving an example saying somebody had reached the Prime Minister's chair in 1988. You did not have as many protocols, as much security, and the Parliament attack incident to learn from then. Now, you have all of it. What stopped you? That is my main point. And I am not playing politics. I am only saying that those who took accountability should be held accountable.

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There are lots of unanswered questions because I am sure the investigation is still underway. But what are the key questions that need to be answered with respect to this breach?

Actually, there are many key questions that need to be asked which I keep saying. There are three levels of security. If you don't have a media pass, you cannot go farther than India Gate. If you have a Parliament pass, which you don't get more than 1-2, the representatives attend to you. There is a security check at India Gate. Then you come to the main security check for entering the Parliamentary premises. All checks are done there including your bag, phones, etc. They confiscate your belongings for the time. Then you come inside the Parliament premises. In the premises also you are not allowed with your phone.

In the premises also there are security checks and XRay machines. That was breached too? The Parliament is the 'temple of democracy' in the 'mother of democracy?' You cannot safeguard that as well? What is the message that you are sending across the world?

There is a lot of ruckus in the Parliament over the breach. What are the expectations of the Opposition with what is happening in the House right now? Because the House hasn't been able to function since the breach.

I will give you an example. Parliament was attacked 22 years ago. The BJP was in power then and now. At that time, the Ministry of External Affairs had made a statement in the House on behalf of the Home Minister. There was a discussion for two days. Following that, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had addressed the House. He had apprised the House of the next steps.

Why? Because he understood his responsibility towards the Parliament. Now, we are asking for just one thing, we aren't picking flaws in you. They should only fulfill their responsibility to the Parliament. They should just tell where they fell short. The answer we are getting - it is Lok Sabha secretariat's responsibility. The Lok Sabha secretariat has Speaker and Deputy Speaker. The security comes under Deputy Speaker. Who is the Deputy Speaker of India right now? Nobody! Nobody because you don't want to appoint in the Lok Sabha.

There should be security at the Joint Secretary's level but the personnel have not been appointed. The number of required security people are less than half but nobody took cognisance. Who will answer? The ones who are asking for these answers are being suspended. What message are you sending? That we will not tolerate any dissent? This is not even dissent. This is a matter of national interest. We are demanding answers.

They say 'they were leftists and rightists', etc. I don't care who came. I am just asking how they came. And whose letter did they come on? A BJP MP's letter. Today, a Mahua Moitra has been suspended citing national security. On what grounds? That she shared her ID and password with an industrialist. Fine, you can find her guilty of 10 other mistakes. But what is national security breach? That you signed a letter and using that, there were people who infiltrated the Parliament and created havoc. Should that MP not be held responsible?

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You spoke about Mahua Moitra. The allegations are quite serious. In a statement you said that the probe against her is hasty. Why do you think so?

I'll tell you why. It is about the natural course of justice. I am a member of Parliament. You set up an ethics committee and you say I have indulged in unethical conduct, so 'get out'. These are your colleagues. The colleagues are sitting in judgment about you. So, as a colleague I will say that this person has wronged me. But does that hold good in a court of law is what I have to be conscious about. What happened with her was natural course of justice was denied to her. Just because you happen to be an MP, I am judged by an ethics committee where there are people who may have a basic understanding of law but they haven't studied law. How do you decide who's convicted? On the basis of hearsay?

Some person in Dubai, a well-known industrialist sitting in Dubai who has business interest in India writes a letter about you saying they have paid money. That becomes the truth? You are not even cross-examining him? A former friend of hers says she took money, etc without any evidence to back that claim.

One of the strongest points that the BJP government makes is that she had given her ID-password and on the same day the account was accessed from multiple locations.

Agreed! Again, I agree. Wrong, should not be shared. We all hold a responsibility. Even in a media house you work in, you are not going to do that. Even if it's not a consent you've signed or agreement you've signed but out of a sense of responsibility, right?

Okay, you can hold her guilty of that but allow the natural course of justice to follow. For you to imply, that because she gave her login id password to xyz, he must have given her some money to ask a question abc. That’s an assumption in your head. That’s a money trail that you all are establishing, is there any evidence? Is there any proof?

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Coming to Parliamentary conduct, you recently said that the passing of the Election Commissioner's Bill was a 2-minute Maggi noodle kind of a discussion. What many felt was - as strong an opposition could not be seen by the Opposition members on the Bill. A lot of people feel that there is a lack of strategy at least in the INDIA bloc over the Bill?

No, that's not correct at all. We all stood together to oppose the Election Commissioner's Bill and I say this with authority simply because Maharashtra has suffered the consequences of the Election Commission being compromised. And there are two things I have a problem within this particular thing, but I only got two minutes to speak which is I think a tragic, I would say a consequence of what is happening in the Parliament.

Two-three things which I think about this Bill - One thing is about 2:1, meaning the Union Minister of the day who is aligned to a political party, the prime minister aligned to his idea versus a leader of Opposition. Three people will decide the recommendation that goes to the President. There is another clause 8 in that Bill which says let's say there is a search committee which has given you five names.

The Select Committee can ignore those five names and can come up with, you know, add 3-4 more names, let's say 5-8 names. Let's say the prime minister decides that hello, none of these 8 names suit my agenda, there is one person I have decided. The Prime Minister's vote stays supreme. So, what is the President doing? If the prime minister has decided that this is my person and the select committee has to propose this name. The President - what does he/she become?

Every election commissioner now, who wants to be CEC, will obviously be bound by this thing in their mind that it's after all two people in the government who are deciding what our future is.

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The last time we spoke, you said that the Maha Vikas Aghadi is going to stand strong till the Lok Sabha elections. Then we saw Mr Ajit Pawar splitting from the party, splitting from the Opposition alliance. Do you think it was a 'nail in the coffin' situation for the MVA? Has MVA significantly been weakened by the leaving of Ajit Pawar?

No, I don't think it has weakened, it has only strengthened simply because we did know there are weak links in the entire chain of the alliance. And the sooner the weak link expose themselves, the better it is.

Now, we also understand the challenges. Of course it would be ridiculous to say there are no challenges. We know the challenges, two parties have been split. But we also understood the need to work together, the weak links are gone. Let’s make it a strong link to give and to commit to the people of Maharashtra what we can deliver.

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Why are we seeing so much friction among the INDIA alliance? TMC has been saying certain things, the Samajwadi Party has been openly attacking the Congress. Where are the things falling through the cracks?

So, as far as the INDIA alliance is concerned, we last met in Mumbai, we did form 5 committees which would coordinate and talk about seat sharing but that got delayed because of the elections that were happening in various states. Now, with regard to Akhilesh Yadav ji there could have been some better coordination to accommodate the number of seats given to the alliance.

It did not happen, that’s why you saw some words being spoken against each other, which could have been avoided. The lesson one has learnt from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is that splitting of votes helps nobody, especially the Opposition and it only helps consolidate one side, which we must avoid and we will work on it.

I can assure the people of this country that it's not just lessons that we take from the election outcome. We also understand our deeper commitment to the people of this country.

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Because you brought up state elections - how do you see the BJP's victory in 3 out of 5 states? Does it, according to you, send any message for the Lok Sabha election?

Of course, it does. When you are seeing an all-powerful party in power in the Centre and wielding that power. If I look at the three elections, it was one at the back of Narendra Modi ji touring the length and breadth of the states which he was focusing on. However, that does not give us reason to be disheartened simply because there could have been some failures in term of assessing the ground situation, assessing where we could have tied up better and understood better on what our policy is.

I have a point to make about Rajasthan. Rajasthan changes every five years, Congress in its head had decided that it's going to change. If Congress would have fought with the idea that it is not going to change, we are going to change history which looks almost possible if you look at the vote share... It is such a close fight and I would give credit to both Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot for despite their differences, having given such a strong fight. If they would have probably changed the 20 MLAs were facing anti-incumbency. They would have probably formed another government here.

Congress had quite a good chance in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh at least that was being touted. Where do you think the Opposition or Congress or INDIA alliance fell short when it comes to these states?

So, how do you ensure that there is no vote splitting? How do you ensure that every single issue that you raise resonates with the people? For example, in Rajasthan it became a very close race. There was actually no anti-incumbency against the chief minister. Anti-incumbency could be against some members of the cabinet but not against the chief minister because he came up with some great ideas.

If you could take those great ideas in a united fashion to the people and say that look this is what we have done. Judge us for our work, not for the petty squabbles we were having. Same in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh actually was a surprise. I would be doing a huge injustice if I try and understand what went wrong. It can only happen through a detailed analysis. But Madhya Pradesh also it looked like a one-sided fight. But when you look at the results, it look like a one-sided loss. So, I think Congress will have to rethink about what went wrong.

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I also asked because you have seen the Congress party function very closely yourself, being formally associated with them.

I have! I worked in Madhya Pradesh and that is why it comes as a bigger shocker to me because even in 2018 people, especially the youngsters and the women, I could see they wanted a change and the change happened but the government fell.

There are many factor that play and what went wrong. Now, I am out of Congress is for Congress party to figure out and not for me to analyse.

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