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Thanks to a divided Opposition, Parl functions smoothly

By Sunita Moga
February 27, 2013 23:41 IST
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Whether it is the chopper deal, the Kurien case or the anti-rape ordinance, divisions in the Opposition ranks on these issues has eased the pressure on the UPA government, feels Sunita Moga

Before the current budget session of Parliament got underway, it was widely expected that the recent revelations about the purchase of the AgustaWestland VVIP choppers, the ongoing controversy over a 17-year-old rape case involving Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson P J Kurien and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s remarks on Hindu terror would cast a shadow over the proceedings and result in a prolonged logjam.

Moreover, there were also fears that the ruling combine’s priority legislation -- the ordinance for anti-rape laws -- could be derailed because of objections from a section of Opposition parties.

But a week after the session commenced, all these fears have been put to rest, as both houses have been functioning smoothly. The government’s parliamentary managers are breathing easy as its assiduous efforts to ensure that the Opposition parties do not present a united front have paid off. Whether it is the chopper deal, the Kurien case or the anti-rape ordinance, divisions in the Opposition ranks on all these issues has eased the pressure on the UPA government.

Unlike the previous sessions when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance and the Left parties worked in tandem to disrupt proceedings on the 2G spectrum scam or Coal-gate, these two parties are not on the same wavelength on several
key issues in this session.

This was demonstrated on Wednesday during the debate on the purchase of the AgustaWestland choppers in the Rajya Sabha when Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath moved a motion to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the charges of illegal pay-offs in the purchase of the helicopters.

Ironically, the BJP-led NDA which disrupted a whole session two years ago to press its demand for a JPC on the 2G spectrum scam, opposed the motion and walked out in protest on the plea that a JPC was an “exercise in futility” and was only meant to deflect attention from the real issue.

Besides its allies, the BJP was also supported by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Trinamool Congress, the Telugu Desam Party and the Communist Party of India. The UPA motion sailed through as the CPM broke ranks with its communist
partner and decided to join the JPC. The ruling combine’s outside supporters, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party also gave their consent to the government’s proposal, paving the way for the adoption of the motion by the Rajya Sabha even though the UPA is in a minority in the Upper House.

This is indeed a rare instance when the government has taken the initiative for the constitution of a JPC. On earlier occasions, be it the JPC on 2G spectrum allocation, Bofors gun deal, the securities scam or the Harshad Mehta stock market scam, the government agreed to set up a JPC reluctantly and only after it was pushed to a corner by
an aggressive Opposition.

Having learnt a lesson from its experience on the 2G spectrum issue, the UPA government upstaged the BJP at the very outset as a confident Kamal Nath volunteered to constitute a JPC even before the budget session had got underway. Subsequently, he worked behind-the-scenes to persuade

the CPM as well as SP leader Mulayum Singh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati to support the setting up of a JPC. The real coup here was getting the CPM on board. Kamal Nath’s Kolkata connection apparently did the trick.

Similarly, the raging controversy over the 17-year-old Suryanelli rape case allegedly involving Kurien did not create a furore although the Left parties had warned that they would press for the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson’s resignation during the session. The UPA government would have faced a tough time if the Left and the BJP had joined hands to disrupt proceedings or boycott Kurien in the Upper House.

Although the BJP did issue a statement demanding Kurien’s resignation before the Parliament session opened, it did not join the Left parties when its members walked out in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday after Kamal Nath made a statement in support of the beleaguered Congress leader. In fact, Kurien presided over the house during the debate on AgustaWestland chopper deal. Members of the Left parties were present during the proceedings, indicating that the storm has died down.

Had this matter got out of hand, it would have proved embarrassing for the Congress as the controversy has surfaced at a time when the Congress has taken the lead in championing the cause of women and is all set to ratify the recently-promulgated ordinance strengthening laws dealing with sexual assault against women.

Contrary to earlier indications, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance which is to be replaced with a Bill, would also be approved without any major hiccups, as the BJP has decided to support it even though the Left parties and the Samajwadi Party have reservations about this legislation.

Senior BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj are in agreement with the provisions of the ordinance and have conveyed as much to the Congress as their suggestion on death penalty has been included. Here again, there is a divergence between the BJP and the Left parties as the latter maintain the ordinance has diluted the recommendations of
the Verma Committee report as it has not included the provision recognising marital rape as a crime and ignored the recommendation on the changes in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

The Samajwadi Party, which extends outside support to the UPA government, is extremely unhappy with the ordinance and wants it to be referred to a parliamentary standing committee for further scrutiny as it believes it could be misused like the Dowry Act.

The UPA government set the stage for the smooth functioning of the Parliament session before its commencement by asking Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to express regret over his remarks at the Jaipur All India Congress Committee session that the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were running training camps to promote Hindu terror. The BJP had made it clear that it would not only boycott Shinde but would not allow Parliament to function till the home minister offered an apology for his statement. Since Shinde is also the Lok Sabha leader, the UPA thought an apology was a small price to pay to enlist the cooperation of the principal Opposition party.

However, there is no reason for the government or the Congress party to be complacent. The leaders of Opposition parties claim that after the break when Parliament meets again they will take up the issues aggressively. Watch this space.

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