Union Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman and Karnataka minister Sa Ra Mahesh had a verbal spat on Thursday after Mahesh asked her to end a meeting citing lack of time, Deccan Chronicle reported.
Mahesh, the Kodagu district in charge minister, asked her to conclude a meeting with victims because officials involved with rehabilitation work were waiting for her. This angered Sitharaman, who snapped at Mahesh while cameras were on at the district commissioner’s office in Mysuru.
“I follow the minister in charge. Central minister follows the minister in charge here. Unbelievable,” Sitharaman was heard saying in a video of the incident. “I don’t know if you are aware of protocol while dealing with Union minister. This is for the first time, a Union minister has to listen to a state minister. You have a list of minute-to-minute for me to follow. I am following the minister in-charge and the itinerary.”
Sitharaman, who is a Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, was visiting Kodagu district to observe the relief and rehabilitation operations being carried out by the armed forces.
“While officers waited for Union Minister Nirmala Seetharaman to end her meeting, which was going on for a long time, the meeting with rehabilitation officials was delayed as Union Minister met BJP leaders and others,” Mahesh told Deccan Chronicle. “Since officers had to rush back to the field on emergency rescue and relief works, I tried to convey her to meet the officers first and meet BJP party leaders later. That’s when Union Minister Seetharaman got angry with me.”
Sitharaman said she was following a “minute-to-minute programme” itinerary given to her by the district administration.“I am following a minute-to-minute programme, minister,” she said. “If officials are important, my parivaar [family] is also important.” “If you had a difference of opinion, then you should have sorted this out before and not put me in an embarrassing moment,” she added.
A clarification, issued by the Ministry of Defence later, said Sitharaman’s use of the term “parivar” was misrepresented in several sections of the media. “One of the four departments of the Ministry of Defence is the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare and in that context it was stated that all ex-servicemen are part of the MoD “parivar”, the defence ministry’s statement said. “Any other inference is misconstrued and uncalled for.”
When Sitharaman was told that the conversation was being recorded, she said: “Let it get recorded.”
Mahesh told News 18 that the incident highlights the “the real nature of people elected to the Upper House”. “They know nothing about the problems of common people and have no understanding of poverty,” Mahesh said. “There was no need for her to talk like that. After all, she is not an elected MP. She has been nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Karnataka BJP.”
We are not inferior to Centre: Karnataka deputy CM
Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara said he was disappointed to see the Union minister lash out at his colleague. “Our ministers have stayed back in Kodagu for weeks to oversee relief operations along with district administration,” he said. “You should extend to them the same respect that they extend for the help from your end.”
Parameshwara said states are not inferior to the Centre and state governments derive their power from the Constitution, not the Centre. “The Constitution has distributed powers among the Centre and States to ensure an equitable partnership between both. We are partners.”
Distasteful remarks do not merit a response: Defence ministry
The defence ministry accused Mahesh of making distasteful personal remarks about Sitharaman and claimed that it “lowered the dignity of the Upper House of Parliament”.
The ministry claimed that Sitharaman’s tour programme was finalised by the district administration two days prior to her visit and that an interaction with the veterans was added to the itinerary later.
“On completion of the field visits, as per the program, the defence minister was interacting with ex-servicemen who had been adversely affected by the floods, when the minister in charge of the district objected and insisted that meeting with the officials be conducted first,” the statement said. “Subsequently, the personal remarks made against the defence minister were also in bad taste and do not merit a response.”