As Congress and other Opposition parties hope to corner Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government on a slew of issues, stormy session likely
The bitter war of words between the BJP and the Congress, seen during the election campaign for Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assemblies ended on Thursday, moved on to the Parliament on Friday with the start of its winter session.
The much delayed session got off to a stormy start with uproarious scenes forcing repeated adjournments. While the Lok Sabha sitting wound up for the day after obituary references, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned twice in an hour and was to resume business later in the afternoon at 2.30.
The Parliament has a heavy load of business to transact in this session with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government putting as many as 40 Bills on the agenda.
Minutes before the session began on Friday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the customary appeal for a constructive session.
However, with the Opposition, particularly the Congress party and its president-elect Rahul Gandhi, ready with a slew of issues to corner the government and especially the Prime Minister, it remains to be seen whether the session – with just 14 working days before it ends on January 15 – will actually see any major legislative business.
As the sitting began, Opposition leaders in Rajya Sabha questioned the Chair’s decision to disqualify senior JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav. Even as Chairman Venkaiah Naidu continued to tell the leaders of Opposition to sit down, Leader of Opposition in Upper House Ghulam Nabi Azad said that the Opposition did not intend to question the Chair’s decision but demanded clarification on why was Yadav expelled from the Rajya Sabha. The furore led to the House being adjourned till noon.
When the House resumed, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad raised the issue of Modi’s allegations against former prime minister Manmohan Singh and others of conspiring with Pakistan for Gujarat election. “Ye sadharan aarop nahi hai (This isn’t a ordinary allegation),” Azad said. The uproar that followed forced the House to be adjourned again, till 2.30 pm.
On the agenda for the ongoing session are key legislations, including the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill, 2017, the Citizen (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Amendment Bill, 2017.
According to a list compiled by the PRS Legislative Research, 25 bills have been listed for consideration and passing, 14 Bills are listed for introduction, consideration, and passing, while one bill is listed for withdrawal.
Many of the Bills on the agenda are controversial and would, if and when tabled, undoubtedly lead to howls of protests from the Opposition benches.
But even before the government actually begins pushing its legislative agenda, it would first have to find ways to blunt the Opposition’s tirade over issues which are not related to the matters that have presently been placed for the Parliament’s consideration.
The Congress party is desperate to press for an apology on the floor of Parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his recent allegation against its leaders, former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and former Vice President of India Hamid Ansari. During the recently concluded Gujarat Assembly poll campaign, Modi had accused Dr Singh, Ansari and the Congress party of holding a ‘secret meeting’ with Pakistani officials at the residence of suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar and alleged that the leaders were hatching a conspiracy with Pakistan over the Gujarat elections. The outlandish claim had outraged the Congress and forced even the mild-mannered Dr Manmohan Singh to launch a scathing broadside against the Prime Minister who he said was spreading “falsehoods and canards”.
The ‘Pakistan conspiracy’ issue aside, the Congress party also hopes to put the Prime Minister and his closest aide, BJP president Amit Shah on the mat over allegations of financial impropriety against the latter’s son, Jay Shah.
It is pertinent to note that the ongoing winter session marks the debut of Amit Shah as a parliamentarian – he had been elected to the Rajya Sabha in September. The session will also be the first for Rahul Gandhi after his recent elevation as President of the Congress party.
The Opposition benches also hope to corner the government over issues related to GST, rising unemployment, unabated inflation, allegations of financial irregularities against Shaurya Doval, the son of Modi’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, inconvenience caused to the public at large over the government’s insistence of mandatory Aadhaar-linking with a host of services and welfare schemes, among others.
While the government may have an ambitious legislative agenda for the winter session and hope to carry a chunk of it through, at least in the Lok Sabha based on its brute majority, it would face a major challenge in the Rajya Sabha where the combined Opposition still has greater numerical strength.
The Opposition’s anger against the Modi government aside, the Centre’s legislative agenda itself is bound to trigger a logjam. For instance, the government hopes to get the National Commission for Backward Classes (Repeal) Bill, 2017 passed in the current session. In the monsoon session of parliament, while this Bill was cleared by the Lok Sabha, the Congress had succeeded in getting three amendments moved to the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, leaving Modi red-faced. The government hopes to have its version of the Bill cleared by Parliament in this session but such a move is unlikely to be accepted by the Opposition.
Similarly, the Centre’s GST Amendment Bill, FRDI Bill, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code Bill, Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, Citizen (Amendment) Bill, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill are all likely to face intense scrutiny and protests by the Opposition.
It remains to be seen how, despite its absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, the Modi government will try to realise the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hope for a “productive session”. Not to forget, the result for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections are scheduled for December 18 (Monday) – the day when the Lok Sabha is scheduled to reconvene after being adjourned on Friday following obituary references. Exit polls have predicted a BJP victory in both states but irrespective of the outcome of the polls, the result is bound to create an upheaval in both Houses of Parliament which will most likely washout another day or two of the already brief session.