Fighting 'brute' majority, opposition considers forming 'people's forums'

Opposition leaders during a rally
The opposition believes the government is trying to constrict the democratic space in the country, both within and outside Parliament. To get around this, opposition parties are discussing a plan to launch ‘peoples’ forums’ by the time the winter session is convened to discuss burning issues, if not inside, then outside Parliament. Discussions will soon take place between political parties to agree on a common charter.

Opposition leaders had accused the government of ignoring its demands to discuss key issues facing the country, including on economy, during the Budget session of Parliament. They also point out that the government has not constituted most of the parliamentary standing committees even after three months of the convening of the 17th Lok Sabha.

“The mechanism of parliamentary standing committees allow opposition to make the government stand on its toes. Not a single committee has been formed,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury said on Tuesday. The government has only constituted the three parliamentary committees on estimates, public undertakings and public accounts. It has not constituted any of the 24 department related parliamentary standing committees, which look into the functioning of ministries.

The CPI (M) leader said he feared, given the government’s “brute majority” in the Lok Sabha, its near majority in the Rajya Sabha and unwillingness to constitute standing committees, that “it will be a sham of a Parliament in the next six to eight months”. Opposition leaders say the space to demand discussions in Parliament could reduce further in the forthcoming sessions.

Addressing an event in the national capital to discuss the fallout of the merger of 10 public sector banks (PSBs) into four, Yechury said the opposition would need to come together on joint “public platforms” to discuss some of the issues facing the country, particularly issues of peoples’ livelihoods.

While Yechury did not elaborate, sources said preliminary discussions between opposition leaders have taken place to constitute ‘peoples’ forums’ or ‘platforms’. These are likely to be launched once the current phase of Assembly polls are over. Assembly polls are due in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand.

In August 2017, socialist leader Sharad Yadav had launched what came to be known as ‘sanjhi virasat’ platform, “to protect India’s composite culture”. It was launched in New Delhi, and held its public meetings in several cities across India. Key leaders of all opposition parties, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, addressed these meetings.

However, some in the opposition now believe the new ‘peoples’ forums/platforms’ should focus on livelihood issues – unemployment, economic slowdown, agrarian crisis, disinvestment of public sector undertakings, merger of PSBs, etc. It is an admission that they might find it difficult to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party on social issues.

Given that opposition parties have different, even contrasting, views on economic policies and issues, leaders will sit down to formulate a common charter.

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