The Narendra Modi government’s refusal to allow a discussion in Parliament about India’s border scuffles with China shows its disrespect for our democracy and demonstrates its inability to bring the nation together, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi said on Wednesday.

At a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the Central Hall of Parliament, Gandhi said maintaining silence on matters of serious concern has become a defining feature of the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s tenure.

Opposition parties have been demanding a discussion in Parliament on the border dispute between India and China since it emerged that clashes broke out between troops of the two countries at Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh on December 9.

The fight was the first between the two countries since the clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh in June 2020. The Galwan incident had led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers while China said it suffered four casualties.

Gandhi, the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, on Wednesday said that a debate on the matter in Parliament could shed light on several critical questions.

“Why is China emboldened to continually attack us?” she asked at the meeting. “What preparations have been made to repel these attacks, and what more needs to be done? What is the government’s policy to deter China from future incursions? Given that we continue to have a severe trade deficit with China, importing far more than we export, why is there no economic response to China’s military hostility?”

Gandhi said it was the duty of the central government to inform the public about its policies and actions, adding that a frank discussion strengthens a country’s response.

“On the contrary, by following divisive policies, by spreading hatred and targeting some sections of our society, the government makes it harder for the country to stand up as one against foreign threats,” the former Congress chief added. “At times like this it must be the government’s endeavour and responsibility to unite our people, not divide them as it has been doing these past several years.”

Gandhi blamed the BJP government for being engaged in targeting the Opposition, questioning critical voices, manipulating the media and undermining the institutions standing in its way. “This is happening not only in the Centre, but also in every state where the ruling party governs,” she said.

The Congress leader also castigated the government for entering into a tussle with the Supreme Court.

“A troubling new development is the calculated attempt underway to delegitimise the judiciary,” she said. “Ministers and even a high constitutional authority have been enlisted to making speeches attacking the judiciary on various grounds. It is quite clear that this is not an effort to provide reasonable suggestions for improvement.”

She accused the government of making an effort to reduce the standing of the judiciary in the eyes of the citizens.

Not good to raise sensitive issues in House: BJP

Amid these demands to debate the border scuffle, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said that it is not good to rake up such sensitive issues in Parliament, adding that it is a convention to not discuss them in the House, reported PTI.

“You would recall that in 2005 when I was in the Opposition I had raised the issue of the China border,” Rijiju told reporters. “Then, late Pranab Mukherjee was the Leader of the House and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called me and said China border issue is very sensitive, therefore, it should not be discussed in Parliament and should be dealt with internally. We did not press.”

He said that in 2008, the BJP had once again demanded a discussion after the Chinese president visited India but it was turned down.

“Then Mukherjee once again said the issue should not be raised in Parliament and the government would internally look into the issues [relating to China] and the solutions would be conveyed personally and not through Parliament,” the minister said, adding that LK Advani, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, did not press for a discussion.

He added: “Today, the same Congress party is repeatedly demanding a discussion. One should think about what is important in national interest.”

Rijiju also blamed the United Progressive Alliance government in 2008 for its alleged failures to deal with China, claiming that AK Antony, who was then the defence minister, had told Parliament that the Congress policy was to not develop border areas or create infrastructure there.

“The policy was not correct due to which the movement of the forces is hindered and the people living there face difficulties,” he added. “But today, Congress has forgotten its history.”

Protests in Parliament

But after the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting, Gandhi and party President Mallikarjun Kharge led a demonstration of Opposition parties near the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament. They demanded a discussion on the border tensions between India and China during the Winter Session.

MPs of around 12 other Opposition parties, including the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), joined the protest and shouted slogans against the Modi government.

“We want a discussion on China, we aren’t asking for military secrets,” Congress leader P Chidambaram said, ANI reported. “What gives China the courage to make incursions into India while our response is purely reactive? Why incursions aren’t being prevented?”

He also asked what the 16 rounds of talks between commanders of Indian and Chinese armies had achieved.

“If a discussion is not held and there is just a one-sided response, what meaning does that have?” Kharge added.

Several Opposition MPs have given adjournment notices in both Houses of Parliament, seeking a discussion on the issue.