Parties back Somnath’s decision to call off London trip

October 8th, 2008 - 5:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Somnath ChatterjeeNew Delhi, Oct 8 (IANS) Political parties across the spectrum have asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to look into the matter of protocol relating to Indian dignitaries going abroad. The move comes after Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s decision to cancel his trip to London on being told that he would be subjected to a body search.Abu Hasem Khan, a Congress MP from West Bengal, said the sudden change in protocol was a departure from known convention.

“The Lok Sabha speaker is the highest authority we have in parliament and he must be exempted from practices like body frisking. Our foreign office should take up the issue and discuss the matter with its counterparts abroad so that a system is evolved,” he said.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also reacted strongly.

“If something like this happens to the speaker again and again then it is the duty of the MEA to sort out the matter. This is serious and also embarrassing,” said BJP MP Prakash Javadekar.

“Chatterjee’s objection to frisking is valid. It is a not a question of an individual’s dignity that has been offended but the dignity of the constitutional authority of a country. Countries like Britain and the US must stop this,” added BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

Several MPs also came out in support of Chatterjee’s decision to call off his proposed trip.

“I support the decision of the speaker to not go to London. By doing so he has upheld the respect and dignity of the Indian constitution,” said Samajwadi Party’s Kamal Akhter.

“The MEA should look into the matter urgently. We should work out a system where our dignitaries are given the same treatment we mete out to others.”

Brajesh Pathak of the Bahujan Samaj Party also upheld the decision: “The speaker has done his best to defend the dignity of his office.”

Added CPI secretary D. Raja: “The speaker must take up the issue with government to sort it out at the appropriate diplomatic level.”

During his tenure as speaker, Chatterjee had visited London several times but was never frisked as he was in the British protocol’s list of people exempted from a body search.

On Oct 3, the British protocol department informed the Indian High Commission in London that the speaker would not be exempt from frisking. It was then that Chatterjee cancelled his trip saying that it involved the honour of the constitutional office.

This is the second time that the speaker has cancelled a foreign trip over this issue. In 2005, he had cancelled his trip to Australia when the host government told him that he would be frisked.

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