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Nirmala Sitharaman More Interested in Dominating Minister, Says Siddaramaiah Over Kodagu Row, Defence Ministry Hits Back

In a clarification, the defence ministry said the remarks against Sitharaman 'have lowered the dignity of the upper house of the Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and show utter lack of regard and knowledge about the Indian Polity'.

Updated:August 25, 2018, 4:39 PM IST
New Delhi: Congress leader and former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah waded into the row over defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s charged visit to flood-hit Kodagu district, saying she was “more interested in dominating our minister” than in assessing the damage, evoking a sharp reaction from the defence ministry.

In a tweet, Siddaramaiah also accused the Centre of extending “step-motherly” treatment to Karnataka. “I condemn the stepmotherly treatment by @PMOIndia in releasing relief funds. We expected PM @narendramodi to assess the loss instead it was delegated to @DefenceMinIndia, who was more interested in dominating our state minister. This reflects @BJP4India 's apathy towards Ktaka,” he tweeted.

Sitharaman and Karnataka minister Sa Ra Mahesh were locked in an exchange of words over her itinerary during the visit.

The entire episode took place in the presence of officials and the media at the district commissioner's office.
Sitharaman was interacting with a group of flood-affected people when Mahesh, the district in-charge minister, told her that officials were waiting for her for a review meeting and they have to go for rehabilitation work. He said she can first address the officials to which Sitharaman agreed.

However, Sitharaman noted that she was only going by the minute-by-minute programme drawn up for her visit and she had been following the minister in-charge and the itinerary. "I follow the minister in charge. Central minister follows the minister in charge here. Unbelievable! You have a list of minute-to-minute for me to follow...I am doing as per your schedule," she said.

Sitharaman, Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, then sought to know how many of the officials were from the field taking care of the rehabilitation work and said she did not want the work to be upset.

Later, Mahesh dubbed 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 told a TV channel.

The district in-charge minister said the state had requested her that the Centre should extend relief for Kodagu just like it did for Kerala.

The comments, however, did not go down well with the defence ministry, which issued a clarification on Saturday regarding the exchange, saying the remarks against Sitharaman “have lowered the dignity of the upper house of the Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and show utter lack of regard and knowledge about the Indian Polity”.

Detailing the sequence of events, the ministry said the tour was finalised by the Kodagu district administration and approved and circulated to all concerned two days prior to the minister’s visit. “Subsequently, on the request of the district administration, an interaction with the veterans was added to the schedule,” they said.

The ministry said as per the schedule, the defence minister was interacting with ex-servicemen who had been adversely affected by the floods, “when the district incharge minister objected and insisted that meeting with the officials be conducted first. The RM [Raksha Mantri] clarified that welfare of ex-servicemen was an essential part of the Ministry of Defence and the same was scheduled in the program. However, the district minister insisted that the RM immediately stop the interaction and proceed to the meeting with the officials”.

The statement said to avoid the situation “from deteriorating”, Sitharaman immediately halted the meeting and proceeded to meet the officials, adding that it was “unprecedented to hold a meeting with all the media persons present”.

Calling Mahesh’s behaviour “unfortunate”, they said the personal remarks made against the Union minister were “also in bad taste, which do not merit a response”.

“It has also been noted that there has been gross misrepresentation with regard to the use of the term ‘parivar’ by the RM during the press conference. 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’. Any other inference is misconstrued and uncalled for,” they added.

The torrential rains that lashed the district last week has left a huge trail of destruction and claimed at least 17 lives. More than 5,000 people have been rendered homeless.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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