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Rediff.com  » News » In row over PM's secretary, Congress fights lone battle

In row over PM's secretary, Congress fights lone battle

July 14, 2014 21:48 IST

The Congress remains isolated as the ruling Bharartiya Janata Party wins over majority of its Opposition on the bill that clears the legal hurdle for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to appoint a principal secretary of his choice -- former TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra. Anita Katyal reports

The failure of the Congress to get the support of its allies and other Opposition parties in its effort to corner the ruling Modi government over the passage of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday left the grand old party isolated.

Although the Bill’s smooth passage in the Lok Sabha was expected given the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s brute majority, the Congress had hoped to push the ruling National Democratic Alliance on the back foot in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress is the single largest party in the Upper House.

But the line-up of opposition parties -- from the Nationalist Congress Party to the Samajwadi Party and the Trinamool Congress – which supported the Bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday is a clear indication that the legislation is set to sail through in the Upper House as well. The Rajya Sabha is expected to witness a replay of what transpired in the Lok Sabha on Monday.

It was, therefore, not surprising that the mood in the BJP and the Congress camps on Monday presented a study in contrast. The ruling alliance’s parliamentary managers were predictably crowing over its success in dividing the opposition while an embarrassed Congress was licking its wounds after its strategy on the Bill was rejected by other opposition parties and questioned by its own members.

Although the Congress leaders had made it known last week that they would not necessarily push for the fall of the TRAI Bill, they had hoped to embarrass the NDA government by showcasing its own majority status in the Rajya Sabha.

As it happened, the grand old party was left squirming as deft behind-the-scenes moves by BJP leaders ensured that the Congress was completely isolated. Clearly, the Congress has a long way to go in coordinating its floor strategy with other opposition parties.  

The Bill amending the TRAI Act will clear the legal hurdle in the appointment of former TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary. The NDA government had promulgated an ordinance amending the TRAI Act two days after coming to power, as the existing law did not permit a former telecom regulator chief to take up a government assignment.

While its allies and other opposition parties disagreed publicly with the Congress, its own members were also unhappy over its handling of this situation. Agreeing with the NCP that it should not rush into opposing the government on “any and every issue”, several senior Congress leaders felt the party was “in an unnecessary hurry to prove itself as an opposition.”   

A former Congress minister told rediff.com that not only should the party slow down on its offensive against the NDA government, but it should also do some preparatory work to make sure it has the support of other opposition parties before it takes on the ruling alliance.    

“We are not going to make any political gains if we keep up our attack against the government. On the contrary, the government will end up getting people’s sympathy  as we will be  perceived to be obstructing it on frivolous grounds…don’t forget the BJP has only recently got a massive mandate,”  a senior Congress office-bearer said.

He maintained that while keeping a vigilant eye on the functioning of the government, the Congress should make simultaneous efforts to put its own house in order and rebuild its shattered image so that people believe that the party is ready to learn from its mistakes.

“We got a severe drubbing in these Lok Sabha polls…we have to show some humility and look inwards,” another senior Congress leader told rediff.com.

Congress ally, the NCP, was the first to convey its disagreement on the TRAI Amendment Bill when its chief Sharad Pawar publicly declared two days ago that they would support the government on this issue. “We don’t have to oppose the government for the sake of opposing… we should pick our battles carefully,” NCP Lok Sabha MP and Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule told rediff.com.

In any case, she said, the PM should be free to choose his team of officials, adding that the opposition should keep its powder dry for more serious issues. “It’s too early to criticise the government… we should give it some time before we attack it,” Sule added.

The Trinamool Congress had initially planned to move a resolution along with the Congress against the TRAI Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha. It was also listed in the agenda papers.

However, the Congress was taken aback when Trinamool leader Sudip Bandhopadhyaya supported the Bill even though the party had opposed its introduction last week. His colleague Saugata Roy, who had moved the resolution, was not present in the Lok Sabha.

Trinamool spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’brien told rediff.com that Roy had moved the resolution on his own accord that their party had never decided to oppose the Bill. “The TMC is a responsible party. The PM can choose any officer whom he thinks fit for the post," Sudip Bandyopadhyay remarked.

The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party also declared their support for the government Bill. “I don’t think this is such a major issue on which we should take on the government,” SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav told rediff.com, clarifying that their party would have floor coordination with the Congress on specific issues. 

Speaking in the same vein, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said that they will not oppose the government as it was the PM’s prerogative to choose his secretary.

The Jayalalithaa-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Biju Janata Dal are not in favour of opposing the Bill.

Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with principal secretary Nripendra Misra heads to chair the first Cabinet meet of his government in New Delhi. Photograph: PTI  

Anita Katyal in New Delhi