New Delhi, Aug 30 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday took on the BJP, saying it should allow parliament to function if it was worried about the country's economy, leading to a verbal duel with the main opposition party in the Rajya Sabha.
In an unusually combative mood, the prime minister, who has often been criticised for silence on major issues affecting the country, accused the BJP for continuously "opposing and criticizing" the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
"Parliament is the supreme body in the country and is not allowed to function session after session," Manmohan Singh said in the Rajya Sabha. "I am glad the principal opposition recognises the need for consensus in the house. But building consensus is the responsibility of both the government and the principal opposition.
"I wish the conduct of the opposition party was consistent while letting the ruling party govern," he said while responding to clarifications on his statement on the sliding rupee.
"If you are worried about the investors' confidence, conduct of parliament is an important factor. I do recognize there is a problem, it can be resolved if the opposition recognizes the responsibility for conduct of the parliament.
"If the record of last nine years is looked at, the principal opposition has never reconciled itself that it was voted out of power in 2004," he added.
This remark caused commotion in the house, with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members leading a noisy protest. The BJP has been pressing for prime minister's reply on the economic situation in the country and has questioned him for his continuous silence on contentious issues.
Order was restored after Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien intervened.
Manmohan Singh went on: "Have you ever heard of a situation in any parliament where the prime minister is not allowed to introduce his council of ministers?
"Have you ever heard of any other country where primary opposition walks to the well of the house and shouts 'PM chor hai" (PM is thief)," he asked pointedly.
The treasury benches shouted "shame, shame" in chorus.
In reply, a miffed Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, snapped back: "Have you ever heard of any country where the prime minister has won the vote of confidence by buying MPs?"
Jaitley was referring to the July 2008 trust vote after the Left parties withdrew support on the Indo-US nuclear deal issue.
This angered the Congress party members, who raised slogans.
"How is it allowed to lie on the floor of the house. LoP (Leader of Opposition) is a liar," shouted Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar.
Jaitley said the house wanted to know about the measures taken by the government to alleviate the current economic situation and was not interested in political sermons.
Reacting to this, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said: "We heard Mr. Jaitley's political statement without interruption and now (they should) let prime minister speak."
The prime minister resumed, continuing his scathing attack on the BJP.
He said it takes two hands to clap and it is essential that legislation is passed by the parliament with proper approval.
To a query on what the government was doing to charges of corruption, he said the "RTI (law) and activism of various agencies have brought out things.....
"This should not be a reason to disrupt the parliament that we cannot do business. There are institutional mechanism, parliamentary committees and legal process, which can grapple with the issue. We do not want to defend any of the guilty," he said.
The BJP members then stood up to raise the issues of missing coal files.
"I am not the custodian of files of ministry of coal," the prime minister shot back.
"I appeal to LoP and all members that there is a collective responsibility we owe to send message to domestic and international investors that India is viable, credible investing option. There is no reason to believe that we are going down the hill," he said.