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Winter session: The ice is unlikely to break

By Aditi Phadnis and Archis Mohan
November 23, 2015 10:08 IST
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The opposition, while not directly stalling Parliament, will insist all legislation goes to standing committees, delaying implementation. Aditi Phadnis and Archis Mohan report.

Every Parliament session has a defining word. It was "corruption" in the monsoon session. It is going to be "intolerance" in the coming winter session, which begins on Thursday.

How will the winter session be different? Buoyed by the Bihar election victory, the Congress is nevertheless clear that it will not disrupt the session the way it did the previous one, which was a washout.

Congress leaders say the conditions were materially different. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia had proven links with a man wanted in India for illegality, Lalit Modi, they say.

They had gone beyond their call of duty to offer him favours. The opposition was virtually united in putting the government on the mat. Disruption, placards, and banners inside the House were the order of the day.

"Doing that again will be harakiri," said a prominent Congress leader. "This time, we will let Parliament work. But, on our terms."

What this suggests is the opposition will throw the rule book at the government. It will be emphasised that Parliament has a committee system and, hence all legislation has to go to departmental standing committees. Insistence on respecting this will inevitably delay legislation.

However, no Congress leader is ready to hazard a guess on what the thinking of party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is.

Judging by the aggressive note he has struck while responding to allegations that he had claimed to be a British citizen, his approach in Parliament might be confrontational. Expecting a stormy winter session, the government has said it is willing to have a discussion on any issue, including on "intolerance".

The National Democratic Alliance has already prepared a list of speakers for discussions on 10 issues, including award wapsi, the Dadri incident, price rise, cow slaughter; one rank one pension; India-Nepal border issue, foreign direct investment in defence and other sectors, and the controversy in Karnataka over the birth anniversary celebrations of Tipu Sultan.

The topics suggest the treasury benches believe they are well-prepared to counter the offensive on the issue of "intolerance" a united opposition is likely to mount. This is why "intolerance", award wapsi and the Dadri incident have been put as part of one discussion by the government.

Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Siddhartha Nath Singh said protests on so-called "intolerance" and award wapsi have been non-existent after the Bihar polls, evidence of the protests being politically motivated, with the solitary objective to damage the BJP's electoral prospects in Bihar.

To put the Congress on the defensive, BJP members have also demanded a discussion on Gandhi's purported UK citizenship. In the Rajya Sabha, the government is likely to field Vijay Goel, Bhupender Yadav and Shiromani Akali Dal's Naresh Gujral, among others, for a discussion on the subject.

The issue was first raised by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, earlier this week, which prompted Gandhi to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to jail him.

"Rahul Gandhi's statement betrayed his immaturity. It was an issue raised by one BJP member Subramanian Swamy, and it wasn't necessarily the view of the party. Gandhi pulled in the PM," said minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

The government has proposed to hold an all-party meeting on Wednesday. Senior ministers Nitin Gadkari, Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley have reached out to opposition leaders to allow important Bills such as on goods and services tax (GST) and the Constitution amendment on this to be passed.

Their fear is that the final decision will be taken by the Congress vice-president.

The BJP is of the view that Gandhi, as he did during the monsoon session, will not let the session transact any business.

The sense in the government after talking to the Congress is that Gandhi believes the strategy to prevent the government from pushing through its reform agenda has worked, since the Congress won as many as 27 of the 41 seats it contested in Bihar.

A source admitted while there was a slim hope Gandhi might allow the session to transact business, the chances have dimmed after Swami raised the issue of the former's citizenship.

The battle of allegations between Gandhi and the BJP is likely to worsen in the days to come, with several more "disclosures" on the business activities of the companies that Gandhi run.

In this context, the prospects of passage of the GST Bill in the Rajya Sabha, where it is stuck, are minimal. The outlook for the winter session: Bleak and grey.

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Aditi Phadnis and Archis Mohan
Source: source