It seems the Congress party’s act of bravado in opposing the ordinance on Nripendra Misra witnessed in the Lok Sabha on Friday may prove to be just that: an act. Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal reports.
The Congress got its first opportunity to prove its credentials as an effective opposition when the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government moved a Bill in the Lok Sabha on Friday to replace the controversial ordinance facilitating the appointment of former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman Nripendra Misra as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary.
While the Congress did stage a noisy protest against the controversial ordinance in the Lower House, it will face its real test in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling alliance is in a minority.
As the lead opposition party with 68 MPs in the Upper House, the Congress, its allies and other supporting parties are in a position to defeat this Bill.
The Modi government had promulgated an ordinance barely two days after it came to power to amend the rules of the TRAI which did not allow its chairman from taking up any future assignment with the government. The ordinance was meant to legitimise the appointment of former TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra as Modi’s principal secretary.
The ordinance has to be ratified by Parliament, failing which it will lapse.
But the question is: does the Congress have the appetite to challenge the new government two months after it secured a massive mandate in the recent Lok Sabha polls?
In fact, it can leverage its strength in the Rajya Sabha to press its pending demand for the position of leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha for its parliamentary party leader Mallikarjuna Kharge.
But from all accounts, the Congress party’s act of bravado witnessed in the Lok Sabha on Friday may prove to be just that: an act.
Party insiders have indicated that though the Congress will oppose the Bill moved to replace the controversial ordinance, it may not go the whole hog by demanding a vote on it in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill will sail through in the Lok Sabha since the ruling alliance enjoys a brute majority here.
“Every Bill which is opposed is not necessarily put to vote,” a senior Congress leader told Rediff.com, indicating that the party will oppose the Bill but will allow its passage in the ensuing din. The Congress also has the option of staging a protest walk-out when the Bill is to be voted.
While this situation could well change by the time the Bill is tabled in the Rajya Sabha next week, the Congress strategy so far is to play the role of an aggressive opposition but without being seen to be obstructionist. It is, however, in talks with other opposition parties just as the Bharatiya Janata Party is also reaching out to regional parties like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to stave off a possible embarrassment.
The Congress move stems from a view in the party that it should not go on the offensive so soon after the formation of the new government. The conservatives in the party have argued that they should wait for the NDA to stumble first.
However, this view has been contested by another section in the Congress which believes it should waste no time in pinning down the BJP government.
“Would the BJP have allowed Parliament to function if it had been denied the LoP post by the Congress? It would have brought both the Houses to a grinding halt,” remarked a senior Congress leader who felt the party should seize every opportunity to take on the Modi government.
The Congress, therefore, stalled proceedings on the opening day of the Budget Session when it insisted on moving an adjournment motion for a discussion on price rise which was rejected by the government. But the session soon got off to a smooth start as the Congress did not seek to derail proceedings thereafter.
It, however, registered its protest on Friday over the TRAI amendment Bill. The Congress accused the Modi government of taking the ordinance route to benefit one individual.
“We have nothing against Misra or the prime minister. What we are concerned about is the principle behind the spirit of the legislation. We are seeing that the principle is being undone in a way that it makes the next person vulnerable to the temptation of pleasing the government of the day,” said Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
Unfazed BJP ministers were quick to retaliate. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad pointed out that the government was within its rights to amend the telecom regulatory authority. “We are pushing this bill based upon clear merits. We are quite confident that we will pass it in both the Houses,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also came down heavily on the opposition parties for its objections to Nripendra Misra’s appointment. The prime minister, he underlined, has every right to choose his staff.
“The prime minister has right to choose his staff. This is sheer politics by the opposition and the Congress. Just because they are upset over the leader of opposition post in the Lok Sabha and Income Tax notice, they are doing this,” Jaitley told a television news channel.
According to Jaitley, the TRAI act needs to be amended as it is only regulatory authority which bars its chairpersons from accepting a government assignment.
Image: Former TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra
Photo courtesy: PIB