Winter Session | Bob Dylan to Bashir Badr: MPs speak on COVID-19 till past midnight in marathon debate in Lok Sabha

December 03, 2021 01:30 PM

The Lok Sabha witnessed one of the longest debates in recent times as parliamentarians sat till past midnight on December 3 to speak about COVID-19 situation amid concerns of Omicron variant spread.

As many as 74 members took part in the debate that lasted for about 11 hours. There were other members who laid copies of their speeches on the table of the House, according to Rajendra Agrawal who was in the chair. The discussion will resume later in the day.

The discussion on "COVID-19 pandemic and various aspects related to it" continued until the House was adjourned at 12. 20 am saw attacks and counter attacks from Opposition and ruling-party members on government’s handling of COVID-19 situation, vaccination and the Omicron variant.

The Opposition members hit out at the government for lack of data on deaths during the second wave of COVID-19 due to oxygen shortage, little clarity on booster doses or vaccines for children and mismanagement during the pandemic.

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra said the government was able to vaccinate people only because Covishield production was ramped up. Moitra, known for her fierce speeches in the House, quoted Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan’s iconic “The times they are a-changin'” to take a dig at the Centre’s COVID-19 management.

“It is probably the first time that Bob Dylan has been quoted in this august house. But in these changing times, popular culture can sometimes do what great poetry and prose can’t, that is to strike a chord. It is unlikely that in this myopic environment of a Hindi, Hindu and Hindutva-driven environment, that most people would have listened to Dylan. So, let me again begin by repeating that times are indeed a-changing,” Moitra said.

The parliamentarians spoke on COVID-19 at a time when first two cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in India.

“From starting out as the iron-man government that prided itself from never-budging it’s position, the past 18 months have seen India transform itself into the land of a U-Turn. The BJP government has finally realised to better start swimming or you will sink like a stone,” said Moitra.

In her speech that lasted nearly six minutes, Moitra slammed Union government for not keeping record of farmers’ deaths during protests this year and migrant deaths due to COVID-19 last year till she was stopped midway by Chair of the House Rajendra Agrawal at 11:45 pm on December 2.

The next speaker Bhola Singh criticised the TMC MP for her comments on Hindutva and Hindu. “I am a Hindi vaasi, I heard what the TMC leader said about Hindi, Hindu and bhagwan in her speech. Her party leader (Mamata Banerjee) aspires to be the prime minister of the country. Can this happen if she (Banerjee) also speaks against Hindi, Hindu and bhagwan?” the Bulandshahr MP said.

This was a rare occasion when the Lok Sabha functioned past midnight. Usually, the house functions from 11 am to 6 pm. But the proceedings on Thursday were extended to allow speakers to speak on the issue. Upon request by Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, dinner arrangements were also made for the members.

Last when the House functioned past midnight was during the Budget Session in February, Lok Sabha members participated in the debate on Motion of Thanks to the President's address till 1 am.

The Lok Sabha resumed normal function on December 1, after losing the first two days of the ongoing Winter session to disruptions. The Lower House functioned for extra two hours to clear The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2020, on the third day of the session that began on November 29. For the first two days of the session, Opposition members had been protesting over a host of issues including the suspension of 12 Opposition MPs of the Rajya Sabha.

During the debate on December 2, the Opposition members cautioned against a possible third wave of pandemic due to the Omicron variant.

"There is a need for timely steps and more alertness. The mistakes of the past should not be repeated," Congress leader of Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.

Earlier, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi alleged that the government had delayed giving vaccination orders. He claimed that 40 lakh people had died due to the disease in the country.

The ruling party members launched a scathing attack on the Opposition for accusing the government of mismanaging COVID-19 pandemic.

It is probably the first time that Bob Dylan has been quoted in this august house

"I do not know what Congress has against Made-in-India vaccines. I understand they are very averse to having Made in India leaders in their party but their hatred towards Made in India vaccine costs the nation dear," BJP’s Bangalore South MP Tejasvi Surya said “Rahul Gandhi does not seem like a responsible leader of opposition. He sounds more like doomsday-predicting wish doctor,” he said.

The discussion continued with treasury members showering praises on PM Narendra Modi's handling of COVID-19 pandemic.

Suggesting to avoid hype over Omicron, BJP MP Dr Sujay Vikhepatil quoted noted Urdu poet Bashir Badr's famous poem with uncanny references to social distancing and staying at home. “.. ye naye mizaj ka shahar hai zara faasle se mila karo (this is a city with new temperament, please maintain distance when you meet,” said Dr Vikhe Patil, the MP and neurosurgeon from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra referring to social distancing.

 The House chair Agrawal, who had been urging the MP to finish, joined in by saying it was Bashir Badr’s couplet written long before COVID-19 outbreak. Works of Badr, 86 have found mention in Parliament speeches. In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also quoted Badr to target the Congress.

The discussion on COVID-19 is scheduled to resume in Lok Sabha and will also be held in Rajya Sabha today.

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