Dark clouds hover over monsoon session
The best of plans can often go awry. The ruling BJP and the NDA government have realized that their overwhelming superiority in numbers in the Lok Sabha amounts to naught when unforeseen winds hit the sails.
On the other side of the fence, the numerically sparse Congress has realized that its best laid out plans for revival of fortunes may have to be put on hold because of bounties by default.
Thus, the BJP that was looking forward to having the amendments to the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, the Railways (Amendment) Bill, the Waterways Bill, the GST Bill, the amendments to the land acquisition Bill, Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill and Benami Transactions (Prohibition) amendment Bill, 2015, passed, will now be fending against the onslaught of the opposition over issues that were nowhere on the horizon only a few weeks away. Now the ruling dispensation will have to summon all its persuasive skills to get the pending bills passed.
The Congress plan
On the other hand, the Congress, looking to secure Dalit support before it eyes a revival in fortunes, was planning to take up the issue of pending bills related to the empowerment and reservation of SCs and STs to corner the NDA government in the Monsoon session of Parliament, which begins next month. Now, both the ruling coalition and the opposition is busy formulating a strategy to control the damage while brazing out the storm and sticking as much mud on the hitherto fair image of the year old government.
Sources within the Congress party say that the party is geared to raise the issue of the non-passage of bills like the Constitution (117th Amendment) Bill, 2012, that aims to provide quota in promotions, a Bill to provide legislative framework for reservation and another to amend and strengthen the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. “We will build pressure on the government to ensure that it introduces these three Bills – which are pending for a long time – in the Monsoon session. Enactment of the Bills will go a long way in ensuring justice for the Dalits,” a party functionary said speaking on condition of anonymity. Congress has realized that in the recent decades it has lost support of the Dalit classes and that unless it recovers lost ground the revival of fortunes would remain a pipedream. The championing of these bills would have the Congress’ way of saying that it wants to reach out to Dalits and other deprived sections in a big way. It would be recalled that Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on June 2 flagged off the national launch of the party’s commemoration of the 125th anniversary celebrations of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar at the latter’s birthplace in Mhow of Madhya Pradesh.
Earlier, the Congress President Sonia Gandhi had on June 1 written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi slamming his government for allowing an ordinance to lapse which was aimed at strengthening the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the previous UPA government had in March last year cleared the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance making penal provisions more stringent to deter people committing crimes against members of Dalit communities. The Ordinance had proposed that common crimes like rape, assault and kidnapping should also be brought under the purview of this Act. “Even as Standing Committee recommended for bringing amendments to the 1989 Act and gave its report way back in December, 2014, the NDA government did not bring a Bill on it in the Budget session. Our party will take up the matter when Monsoon session of Parliament convenes,” the functionary said.
Pitching for bringing the bill to amend the 1989 Act, Sonia Gandhi had said that it was a “matter of disappointment” that NDA government “allowed the ordinance to lapse” by sending it to the Standing Committee. The other one, the Constitution amendment (117) bill providing for quota for SCs and STs in government job promotions was passed by Rajya Sabha with an overwhelming vote of 206 in the 245-member House in December 2012, when UPA was in power. However, it could not be passed by the Lok Sabha.
Samjawadi Party and Shiv Sena had opposed it. The third bill that the Congress wants Government to bring in Parliament is aimed at providing a legislative framework to reservation in employment and education. So far reservation in jobs and education is provided through an executive order for a period of ten years, which are extended from time to time.
The manifesto for Dalit empowerment prepared by the party ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls will serve as a guiding principle for the Congress in future course of action more so when Rahul Gandhi is increasingly taking up a lead role in the party. The last Lok Sabha polls saw caste barriers breaking in key states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where a sizeable section of Dalits voted for BJP. In UP, the drift of Dalit votes to BJP has served as a warning signal for Congress. The community did not favour Congress even after Gandhi’s visits to and his taking of meals at Dalit homes. The Congress believes that BSP’s hold over Dalits has loosened considerably in states other than Uttar Pradesh and they are still not strongly behind BJP. In such a situation, increasing their focus on Dalit issues can help them get back their “traditional Dalit support”, Congress leaders feel.
BJP runs into rough weather
Meanwhile, the government had embarked on an extensive exercise to prepare a heavy legislative agenda for the monsoon session of Parliament next month but the events of the past few weeks has cast a dark shadow over the planning. But even as the Congress has threatened a washout of the session if Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje do not resign over the Lalit Modi episode, the think tank of the BJP is chalking out a strategy so that the party can brazen out the woes it is facing.
Media sources affirm that Afzal Amanullah, Secretary, Parliamentary Affairs, has written to Secretaries in all ministries, asking them to “urgently” specify bills and other items of government business proposed by each ministry for the upcoming session. A comprehensive list of 65 bills pending in both houses of Parliament from the last session – 12 in the Lok Sabha and as many as 53 in the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in a minority – was attached to the letter for the perusal of the ministries. The letter is said to have specified that the standing committees have submitted their reports in 34 such bills, while 18 bills, including the Land Acquisition Bill, are pending with standing or joint committees. “Since the ministries are interacting with the standing committees, you would be in a position to identify the bills pending with the standing committees which are likely to be ready for consideration and passage in the next session. You may like to appraise this ministry of the same,” Amanullah said in the June 11 letter.
Sullied image of BJP?
The monsoon session of Parliament is all set to begin on July 21, but it will be a truncated three-week affair.
The earlier proposal was to commence the session from July 20, a Monday. But as Eid may fall on July 18 or 19, a decision was taken to start it from July 21. But the session is likely to be stormy as the opposition has found potent ammunition in the form of what has come to be known as Lalitgate. At first it was thought that it would only singe Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj but the opposition now finds in the happy position of nettin the Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.
But as if it was not enough for the Congress to warn that the session could be in jeopardy if External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia were not made to resign on the Lalit Modi row, more trouble has mounted for the ruling from some unexpected quarters. A Delhi court has ruled that the complaint against Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani regarding her claims to a degree in her affidavit before the Election Commission is maintainable, in Maharashtra the young minister Pankaja Munde has been accused of mastering a Rs. 200 crore scam. Thus four leaders of BJP, representing a cross section of the society have fallen in the line of some serious fire from the Congress.
While the Lalit Modi controversy is likely to devour a few more victims, Smriti Irani may not be able to escape the wrath of law and the people particularly after the manner in which Jitender Singh Tomar, former Law Minister of Delhi’s AAP government was exposed and arrested. After adopted holier than thou attitude, the BJP can hardly apply double standards in case of Irani. But it is the Lalitgate that is going to threaten the monsoon session. Born out of the politics of cash rich BCCI and the cosy club of the IPL, it is likely to ensnare a few more names.
After a year in office, of which tall claims of probity have been made, the BJP finds itself in the unenviable position of having two of its stalwart leaders helping a person wanted by the investigating agencies for financial misdemeanor. Both, Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje appear to have gained benefits for their family members by being a ‘friend’ of Lalit Modi. The Congress is not going to let go of the quid pro quo angle in the ‘friendly’ and ‘humanitarian’ help rendered to Modi.
The contentious Bills
In addition, there are the issues of the Bills, particularly the amendments to the land acquisition act and the GST Bill. To be fair to the Congress and the other opposition parties opposing the land acquisition’s proposed new law, it must be said that the attitude of the BJP has been baffling. After supporting the new law in 2013 it inexplicably had a rethink soon after coming to power. Not surprisingly, many believe it was at the behest of land sharks and corporate sector. There is little doubt that the BJP will have to make necessary changes to the amended proposal if it wants to get it passed smoothly. As far as GST is concerned then that is another matter.
This was a Bill that UPA government wanted passed but the BJP had opposed it tooth and nail. Today the Congress is using the very same arguments that BJP used to stall it. But since all observers believe that the Congress is not as destructive as the BJP therefore it will finally allow it to pass if only because it was its own brain child.
But the real issue now is not whether the BJP can evolve a bi-partisan approach while dealing with opposition.
The question is that will the parliament function this monsoon session? Judging by the hard stances adopted by both the parties the danger of the session becoming a complete washout is real. The Home Minister has declared that the NDA ministers will not resign since this was not a UPA government. This puzzling response had to be followed by a clarification from another senior minister Ravi Prasad but both have only added to the ire of the Congress.
The Congress and the UPA had lost a number of ministers because of scams and serious allegations as the BJP stalled the parliament in the absence of any action. The Congress feels that now is the time to seek revenge and it is unlikely that the two senior BJP leaders will be allowed to hold office for long. But if the BJP rides the storm by using its majority then it would not only have lost its moral sheen but also encouraged those who thrive in flirting with wrongdoings. As it is, the accusations against the BJP governments are rising by the day with another bright face in Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan facing serious corruption charges.
In the midst of it all, many discontented leaders have begun to find their voices. Old warhorses, L.K.Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi have already embarrassed the government and now leaders like Kirti Azad and R.K.Singh have also lent their voice. Moreover, could Yashwant Sinha have dared to make ‘brain dead’ comment a year ago? Indeed the clouds are gathering.