Time is running out for a hapless UPA govt over the Telangana bill, and the latest observation by the Rajya Sabha secretariat -- that the bill has financial implications and so must be introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha first -- has only worsened the crisis for the ruling alliance. Anita Katyal reports.
The United Progressive Alliance government’s plan to table the controversial Andhra Reorganisation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday has run into fresh trouble.
The ruling alliance has been forced to defer its introduction after the Rajya Sabha secretariat asked the Union law ministry to clarify if the proposed bill involved financial implication.
A money bill has to be necessarily introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha first.
UPA sources told Rediff.com that there are two views in the government on this issue. Law Minister Kapil Sibal had told the last Cabinet meeting which cleared the Telangana Bill that the legislation had direct financial implications and, therefore, should first go to the Lok Sabha. He was, however, overruled by Finance Minister P Chidambaram who argued that this qualified as a “B” category bill which had “consequential financial implications” and could, therefore, be introduced and passed in the Rajya Sabha first.
This argument has been revived with the Rajya Sabha seeking a clarification from the law ministry on Monday night.
The UPA government’s senior leaders were huddled in a late night meeting on Monday to resolve this issue but the discussion remained inconclusive. It was, therefore decided to defer the bill till there was greater clarity on the points raised by the Rajya Sabha secretariat.
Having been embarrassed on the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill last week, the ruling alliance does not want to take any chances on this politically crucial legislation.
Congress sources told Rediff.com that the government had originally decided to table the bill in the Rajya Sabha first as it felt it had it had a better chance of getting it passed here since the number of anti-Telangana MPs in the Upper House is smaller as compared to the Lok Sabha.
Moreover, the bill will remain alive even after the term of the present Lok Sabha comes to an end even if it is not passed in the Upper House.
There is a fear that the Telangana Bill will fall by the way side if the government is legally bound to take the Lok Sabha route. The contingent of anti-Telangana MPs, who have been continuously derailing proceedings since the winter session commenced last week, is much larger here. With emotions running high, the Lok Sabha could well witness ugly scenes, similar to those seen when the Women’s Reservations Bill was sought to be passed in the Lower House.
The latest glitch has once again shown how the Congress-led UPA government has bungled in handling the Telangana statehood issue. Its own chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has defied the party leadership by openly opposing the division of Andhra Pradesh while the Seemandhra region is in a state of turmoil as the ruling alliance has failed to get all the stakeholders on board.
However, political compulsions have pushed the Congress leadership into pursuing its plans to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh before the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. In fact, the ruling alliance is racing against time. Although the ongoing winter session of Parliament ends on February 21, it has become imperative for the UPA government to get the Telangana bill passed this week itself as the vote-on-account has been scheduled for February 17.
Once this financial business is completed, no MP will be interested in participating in the ongoing Parliament session as they will all be keen to hit the campaign trail for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Well aware of this constraint, the Congress is trying to placate its protesting MPs from Seemandhra while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley for lunch on Wednesday to enlist their party’s support in the passage of the statehood bill.
The government needs the BJP’s help in the Upper House as the ruling alliance does not have the numbers to push it through on its own.
Congress sources told Rediff.com that the government has decided to table the bill in the Rajya Sabha first as the number of anti-Telangana MPs in the Upper House is smaller as compared to the Lok Sabha.
Moreover, the bill will remain alive even after the term of the present Lok Sabha comes to an end.
Having taken a stand in favour of Telangana, the BJP cannot afford to publicly reject the government’s move to table the Telangana bill. But it is making it difficult for the ruling alliance to push through the bill. While supporting the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the principal opposition party has also said that the onus is on the government to ensure there is order in the House to enable a proper debate on this important legislation.
The BJP party has further told the ruling alliance that it will not support any move to use marshals to physically remove protesting MPs from the House. Anti-Telangana MPs have not allowed Parliament to function ever since the session commenced on February 6.
"We are for the bill. Let the government set its house in order. It’s own MPs are disrupting the proceedings of the House and creating ruckus," said the BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad, also the deputy Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
However, there is a section in the BJP, led by Arun Jaitley, which maintains that the party should allow the passage of the Telangana bill during the UPA regime or else it will be saddled with this legacy when it comes to power after the Lok Sabha elections. A final view is likely to be taken at the BJP parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday.
Pressed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the UPA government will make all possible efforts to push through the bill but uncertainty persists over its passage. Congress sources told Rediff.com that unless the protesting MPs are physically removed and suspended for the duration of the debate, it will be difficult to pass the bill.
Stating that the BJP is indulging in doublespeak, a senior Congress leader maintained that the principal opposition party is basically using the alibi of the protesting anti-Telangana MPs to stall the bill.
If the government is unable to mollify the Seemandhra MPs and the present stalemate continues, the ruling alliance will not be able to go beyond the introduction of the bill.
“And even if we are able to get the bill passed in the Rajya Sabha, it will run into trouble in the Lok Sabha,” a senior Congress leader told Rediff.com. Since the contingent of the bill’s opponents, cutting across party lines, is much stronger in the Lower House, it will be a difficult job to remove them physically.
While the government is keen on passing the bill at all costs, it cannot be seen to be pushing through the Telangana bill against the wishes of a large section of Andhra MPs, especially since the legislation has already been rejected by the state assembly.
At the same time, the Congress has to make all possible effort to get the bill passed as it believes its passage will help the party make political gains in the Telangana region in the general election.
“Having gone so far, we back off at this stage. We have already been washed out in the Seemandhra region… if we don’t push ahead with the bill, we will end up losing Telangana as well,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
Image: A pro-united AP activist burns a tyre during a protest against Telangana creation, in Guntur