The Congress has reasons to enjoy the BJP’s discomfiture. After all, the Insurance Bill was introduced by the UPA government in 2008 but was constantly blocked by the BJP on some pretext or the other which was then in the Opposition.
The National Democratic Alliance government and the Congress-led opposition parties are locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation over the passage of the Insurance Laws Amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha.
With both sides refusing to backtrack from their respective positions, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Parliamentary managers are saying that if this deadlock persists, it would call a joint session of Parliament to ensure the speedy passage of the Bill.
However, there is a catch here. If a Bill is to be tabled before a joint session of the two houses of Parliament, it has to be first passed in one House and defeated in the other House.
The government and the Opposition are well aware of these procedures. It is precisely for this reason that nine opposition parties, accounting for 125 members, are insisting that the Bill be referred to a Parliamentary panel for detailed scrutiny on the plea that the government had introduced 11 new amendments to the Bill. Its game plan is to buy time and delay a vote on the Bill.
The government, on the other hand, does not want the Bill to be referred to a Parliamentary panel and would rather that the Bill is voted out as this would enable it to secure its passage by a joint session of the two Houses.
The government wants the Bill to be passed before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September visit to the US to signal its intention to fast forward economic reforms. This will not be possible if the Bill is referred to a parliamentary committee. It has, therefore, rejected the Opposition demand.
The passage of the Insurance Bill is Narendra Modi-led NDA government’s first big test in Parliament. The ruling alliance will have no problem in getting the Bill passed in the Lok Sabha as it has a brute majority here. However, it faces an uphill task in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA is in a minority.
This game of brinkmanship is set to continue over the next two days as the all-party meeting called by the ruling alliance on Monday to find a consensus on this issue, failed to make any headway. Finance minister Arun Jaitley told the meeting that the Opposition had three options: approve the Bill, vote it out or amend the legislation.
At the same time, the BJP has bought time by putting off the introduction of the Bill for another two days. It will utilise this period to persuade smaller Opposition parties to support the introduction of the Bill instead of insisting that it be referred to a Parliamentary panel.
For instance, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress is clear that it will vote against the Bill. It may, therefore, be persuaded to break ranks with the other Opposition parties. The Samajwadi Party is also said to be of the same view and may not insist that the Bill be referred to a Parliamentary panel. The Biju Janata Dal has already said it will support the Bill while the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK could also change its stand.
The ruling alliance is insisting that the Bill be voted on as it believes this will put the Congress in a quandary. It is of the view that since the Insurance Bill, seeking to raise foreign investment cap in the insurance sector from 26 to 49 per cent was first moved by the United Progressive Alliance government, it would be difficult for the Congress to vote against its own Bill. “Let them vote their own Bill out…how will the Congress explain its stand,” an exasperated BJP minister told rediff.com, insisting that the Bill is basically a “UPA Bill.”
On its part, the Congress is in no hurry to reveal its stand as it realises that the NDA government is in a tight spot on this issue. A senior Congress leader told rediff.com that their party will go along with other opposition parties and vote against the Bill if it is not referred to a select committee as demanded by them.
Keeping up the suspense, Congress spokesperson Randip Surjewala said, "It is a misnomer to say that Congress is opposing the bill. What Congress wants is that all stakeholders should be appropriately consulted and taken on board before a "considered, rational and reasonable" decision is taken.”
Stating that the Bill could be passed in the winter session of Parliament, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, maintained that their party is all for foreign investments in the insurance sector. “But the NDA government has made substantive changes in the Bill and we need to study these,” Azad added.
The Congress has reasons to enjoy the BJP’s discomfiture. After all, the Insurance Bill was introduced by the UPA government in 2008 but was constantly blocked by the BJP on some pretext or the other which was then in the Opposition. It is ironical that the BJP has not only dusted up the UPA Bill but is now pleading with the Congress to cooperate in its early passage. The wheel has indeed turned full circle.
Photograph: Eliseo Fernandez/Reuters