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Insurance Bill: Modi checkmated in Rajya Sabha

By Sheela Bhatt/
Last updated on: December 12, 2014 13:02 IST
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The Modi government is learning to deal with the reality that it does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, reports Sheela Bhatt/

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tokyo. Photograph: Issei Kato /ReutersThe winter session of Parliament is proving a rude reality check for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

By all accounts given by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Opposition, understands that the much-awaited Insurance Bill is unlikely to pass in this session of Parliament.

The Cabinet approved the Bill on December 10.

Insurance companies in India are not permitted to have a foreign holding of more than 26%. The Bill raises the limit to 49% and allows the entry of foreign insurance companies into India.

If it is passed in Parliament, the Bill will radically change savings patterns, insurance habits and have a profound impact even in rural India.

The winter session that began on November 24 and end on December 23 has revealed that the Modi government is learning to deal with the reality that it does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of India's Parliament.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has been obstructed by roadblocks and will need to develop a strategy to overcome these hurdles.

The winter session of Parliament's 22 sittings were supposed to take up 67 pending Bills -- eight before the Lok Sabha and 59 before the Rajya Sabha -- but Minister of State Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti's unfortunate remarks against non-Hindus erased four days from the parliamentary calendar.

The conversion of poor Muslim families in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, is the current bone of contention between the BJP and its opponents in Parliament.

The handling of Niranjan Jyoti's remarks and the upheaval were handled by Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu in the Lok Sabha and by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha.

In spite of these veterans's floor management, Modi's statement on Niranjan Jyoti's remarks in both Houses did not have the desired impact.

It was a rude shock for the prime minister when the Opposition ignored his plea for understanding. The matter was settled only after Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari read out an appeal to let the House function.

The dominance of the non-BJP parties on news television channels during Parliament's winter session is there for the BJP's media managers to see.

The talk in Parliament and in the lobbies outside is why the BJP's 282 seats has not helped the government to expedite its legislative business. How will the government keep apace with people's aspirations if its large majority is not enough to usher change, observers ask.

The ruckus over resurgent Hindtuva issues like Niranjan Jyoti's remarks and the conversions of Muslims has armed the Opposition with legitimate reasons to stall Parliament.

When Chandan Mitra, chairman of the Rajya Sabha Select Committee tabled the report on the Insurance Bill on December 10, it carried dissenting notes from four of its 15 members belonging to the Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, Communist Party of India-Marxist and Janata Dal-United. None of these parties want foreign money in the sensitive insurance sector.

Amongst many things the Congress wanted a composite cap on such investments. The Congress's demands have been accepted by the NDA government so that party does not have any reason to oppose the Insurance Bill.

The combined might of the non-BJP parties is enough to stall the Insurance Bill in the Upper House. The Congress too is likely to go with the current mood of non-BJP MPs in the Rajya Sabha.

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Sheela Bhatt/ in New Delhi
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