Kodagu, Aug 25, 2018 : A day after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman triggered a row after lashing out at a Karnataka minister during a presser, the Defence Ministry Saturday blamed the state minister for the incident and said that the latter’s remarks have “lowered the dignity of the Rajya Sabha”.
On Friday, Sitharaman, a Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, visited flood-ravaged Kodagu district to review relief operations by the defence forces. She reacted furiously when Karnataka Minister Sa Ra Mahesh suggested to her to wind up the press interaction as a number of government officials were waiting for a meeting with her.
“I am following a minute-to-minute programme, minister. I do not violate that. If officials are important, my parivaar (family) is also equally important. I follow the minister-in-charge. Central minister follows the minister in-charge here. Unbelievable,” she told Mahesh, who was sitting next to her. “You have a list of minute-to-minute programme for me to follow. If you did have a difference of opinion, you should have sorted it out before,” Sitharaman said.
When an official told her that media was recording her comments, she said “Let it get recorded.”
Issuing a clarification on the incident, the Defence Ministry questioned the state minister’s conduct. “On completion of the field visits, as per the programme, the defence minister was interacting with ex-servicemen who had been adversely affected by the floods, when the district in-charge minister objected and insisted that meeting with the officials be conducted first,” it said.
“The defence minister clarified that welfare of ex-servicemen was an essential part of the ministry and the same was scheduled in the programme. However, the district minister insisted that the defence minister immediately stop the interaction and proceed to the meeting with the officials,” the ministry said.
It said Sitharaman immediately halted the meeting and proceeded to the venue of the meeting with the officials. “The venue was already set up for the press conference and hurriedly the officials were summoned to sit among the mediapersons for the review. It was unprecedented to hold a meeting with the officials, with all the mediapersons present,” it said.
The ministry said inspite of the district administration finalising her programme and the minister following the same in its “entirety”, it is unfortunate that the Karnataka minister behaved the way he did. “Subsequently, the personal remarks made against the defence minister were also in bad taste, which do not merit a response,” the ministry said.
Following the incident, Mahesh had termed Sitharaman’s comments as a reaction to the demand for funds from the Centre to Kodagu. “She would have known the pain had she contested election by standing with the electorate, going to every house, meeting voters and asked their problems. She has been elected to Rajya Sabha from Karnataka,” he had told a TV channel.
In a tweet, Congress leader and former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah criticised Sitharaman, alleging that she was “more interested in dominating our minister” which reflected BJP’s “apathy” towards the state.
The torrential rains that lashed the district last week have left a trail of destruction and claimed at least 17 lives. More than 5,000 people have been rendered homeless