Parliament set for stormy monsoon session as all agree to disagree

PM Narendra Modi with Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge after an all-party meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday | Photo: PTI

On the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament, the Narendra Modi government and a united Opposition spewed homilies about the need for Parliament to function, but spent the rest of the day writing the session’s epitaph.

With assembly polls to key north Indian states round the corner and the Lok Sabha elections not far away, neither side was willing to surrender an inch. If the prime minister and Bharatiya Janata Party have escalated their attack on the Congress and other opposition parties in the last few days, the Congress-led Opposition on Tuesday said it planned to move a no-confidence motion against the Modi government in the Lok Sabha.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was first off the block. On Tuesday, its Lok Sabha MP Srinivas Kesineni gave a notice for a no-confidence motion to be admitted on the first day of the session itself. Other parties, including the Congress, will also give similar notices.

A joint letter from the opposition’s Lok Sabha MPs to Speaker Sumitra Mahajan was yet another proof of the increasing trust deficit between the ruling BJP and opposition parties. The letter was in response to the Speaker’s letter to MPs last week where she had appealed to them to ensure smooth functioning of the Lok Sabha. Opposition MPs pointed out how under Mahajan’s watch crucial Bills have been passed without any meaningful discussions, or deprived of due scrutiny as these were not sent to the standing committees, or were converted as ‘single house Bills’ by way of being certified ‘money Bills’.

The letter from opposition MPs pointed out that the Speaker didn’t take up their no-confidence motion in the Budget session by pointing out disruptions, but ignored the same disruptions to get the Finance Bill passed without any discussion and debate. 

The letter said the government also sneaked in “most unconnected, retrogressive and anti-democratic measures by way of introducing inadmissible amendments to the Finance Bill and pushing them through without the world knowing what was happening in the temple of democracy.” The letter termed it "surreptitious legislation". 

There were indications from the government that Shiromani Akali Dal’s Naresh Gujral could be fielded as a consensus candidate for the post of the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha. However, Congress party’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said the government was yet to reach out to the Opposition with any such proposal. 

In a letter to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress should come together to offer a “new deal” to the women of India. Prasad’s letter was in response to Gandhi’s letter to the Prime Minister. In his letter on Monday, Gandhi had asked the PM to support the passage of the Bill that envisages a third of all seats in Parliament and state assemblies for women.

Prasad said the two parties should come together to not just get women’s reservation Bill passed, but also Bills that prohibit ‘triple talaq’ and ‘nikah halala’. The Lok Sabha has already passed the ‘triple talaq’ Bill, which is pending in the Rajya Sabha.

The Parliamentary Affairs Ministry also circulated the Right to Information amendment Bill, which is likely to be opposed by several of the opposition parties. Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Mohammed Salim said the Bill seeks to erode the independence of the information commissioners at the Centre and in states.

Earlier in the day, the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry held an all-party meeting. At the meeting, the PM appealed to all parties to ensure a smooth session, and said the government was willing to discuss all issues.

Opposition parties said they would like Parliament to discuss mob lynchings, “misrule” in Jammu and Kashmir, foreign policy, increase in deposits of Indians in Swiss banks, inflation, safety of women, erosion of reservation for Dalits and OBCs in institutes of high learning and the fallout of demonetisation.

In the evening, the Speaker held an all-party meeting of Lok Sabha leaders of all political parties, while Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu invited Rajya Sabha leaders to his residence for a meeting.

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