The Congress on Thursday hit out at Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar for his criticism of Rahul Gandhi's remarks in the UK, saying that the Rajya Sabha chairman is an umpire and cannot be a cheerleader for any ruling dispensation.
The Congress' reaction came after Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Dhankhar attacked Gandhi for his comments regarding microphones being turned off in Parliament, and said he would be on the "wrong side" of the Constitution if he stayed silent on the issue.
How did Congress react?
In a statement, Congress general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh noted that at an event on Thursday to mark the launch of a book, the vice president made certain remarks on Rahul Gandhi's speech delivered in the United Kingdom.
"There are certain offices which require us to shed our prejudices, our party allegiances and compel us to rid ourselves of whatever propaganda we may have imbibed along the way.
"The office of the Vice President of India, an office on which the Constitution bestows the additional responsibility of being the Chair of the Rajya Sabha, is foremost amongst these," Ramesh said.
The vice president's statement on Gandhi, therefore, was surprising to say the least, he said.
"He (Dhankhar) rushed to the defence of a government from which he is constitutionally required to be at arms-length and in a manner that was both confusing as well as disappointing," Ramesh said.
He said Rahul Gandhi has not said anything abroad that he has not said several times here.
"And unlike certain other individuals, his stand does not vary depending on where he sits," Ramesh said.
The Congress leader argued that Gandhi's statement was factual and representative of the reality on the ground.
"Over the last two weeks, more than twelve Members of Parliament belonging to Opposition Parties have been served with Breach of Privilege Notices for protesting the suppression of their voices in Parliament on an issue that is inconvenient to the ruling regime," he said.
Over the last eight years, channels and newspapers have been blacked out, raided, and intimidated to the point that the only voice that is carried is that of the government, he alleged.
Institutions that maintained a studied distance from the governments of the past are now subordinated to the point that they choke on any order or finding adversarial to the ruling regime, he claimed.
"Those who dissent are penalised. There may be no declaration of emergency but make no mistake, the actions of this regime are not those of a secure government that respects the Constitution," Ramesh said.
The Vice President's remarks on this occasion, as well on certain previous ones, only serve to underscore this point, he alleged.
In these times, to be petrified to dissent would be a betrayal of the Constitution and all that our founding fathers fought for, he said.
"We at the Indian National Congress have been the most consistent voice in opposition to this regime and will continue to do so," Ramesh said.
"The Chairman, however, is an umpire, a referee, a friend, philosopher and guide to all. He cannot be a cheerleader for any ruling dispensation. History measures leaders not on the zealousness with which they defended their party, but the dignity with which they performed their roles in the service of the people," the Congress general secretary said.
In a tweet, Congress general secretary in-charge organization K C Venugopal also hit out at the vice president.
"Misrepresenting parliamentary proceedings is unbecoming of the office of the Vice President," he said.
"Opposition MPs' mics are routinely switched off, and proceedings reached a new low last session when the LS Speaker expunged Rahul Gandhi ji's allegations on the Adani scam," Venugopal said.
Instead of denying something that is out in the public glare, the vice president should ensure that the opposition is given ample space to raise issues of public importance, no matter how uncomfortable they make the Modi government, he said.
What sparked the controversy?
Speaking at an event to launch veteran Congress leader and former parliamentarian Karan Singh's book on the Mundaka Upanishad, Dhankhar spoke extensively on the former Congress president's remarks made in London.
"The world is applauding our historic accomplishments and functional, vibrant democracy. Some amongst us, including parliamentarians, in overdrive are engaged in thoughtless, unfair denigration of our well nurtured democratic values," he said.
Rahul Gandhi told British parliamentarians in London on Monday that functioning microphones in the Lok Sabha are often silenced against the Opposition. He made the comment during an event organised by veteran Indian-origin Opposition Labour Party MP Virendra Sharma in the Grand Committee Room within the House of Commons complex.
In his address, the vice president said, "How do we justify such wanton orchestration of factually untenable narrative and mark the timing... India is having a moment of glory being president of G20. And there are people from the country working in overdrive to denigrate us. Such misplaced campaign mode to taint and tarnish our Parliament and Constitution is too serious and exceptional to be ignored."
"No political strategy or partisan stance can justify compromising our nationalism and democratic values. I am before a noble soul, my silence on this misadventure...if I observe silence on this orchestration by a Member of Parliament outside the country which is ill-premised and motivated, I would be on the wrong side of the Constitution. It would be constitutional culpability and outrage of my oath," Dhankhar said, in an obvious reference to Gandhi's remarks.
(With PTI Inputs)