Will it be another washout session?
Yet another Parliament session seems to be moving towards a washout because of the confrontation between the ruling party and the Congress-led opposition. With both sides armed with ammunition to attack each other, there is no meeting point. Nor has the government made any efforts to woo the opposition.
The confrontation is at the top level. The BJP is determined to take on Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi on the Agusta chopper deal, Ishrat Jahan case, and other issues. Meanwhile, the Congress has found fault with the Modi government’s use of Article 356 in dismissing Congress-ruled governments of Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Politically, the confrontation is not unexpected in view of the ongoing Assembly elections in five states – West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, and Kerala where the stakes are high for all the players, the Congress, BJP, AIADMK, DMK, Trinamool Congress, LDF and other smaller parties. Part of the strategy is due to this electoral battle. After all the Congress is ruling in Assam and Kerala and is struggling to retain both or at least one of them to improve its sagging image after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP, which faced a difficult 2015 when it lost miserably in both Delhi and Bihar, is also looking to improve its position in these states where it does not have much presence.
The confrontation is on several issues. The first is Uttarakhand. The BJP wants to form the government while the Congress would like to retain the government, which has been dismissed by the President. Unfortunately for the Congress, the session began when the Uttarakhand crisis is in court. Strangely while the Uttarakhand High Court has questioned the imposition of President’s Rule in the state the Supreme Court has stayed it. The chief minister is waiting to prove his majority in the Assembly. Whatever may be the verdict of the Supreme Court one or the other will become the affected party, which would have its echo in Parliament.
The second is the Ishrat Jahan case. The BJP wants to slam the then Home Minister P Chidambaram that his decision to alter the affidavit was at the instance of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. The BJP members are belligerent about this while the Congress is on the defensive.
The third is the Pathankot terror attack and the Congress wants to put the BJP government on the mat. Linked to that is the Indo-Pak relations where the Modi government is accused of following a flip- flop policy. The House would expect a statement on this week’s Foreign secretary level talks on the sidelines of a conference in Delhi.
The fourth is the continuation of the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation issue. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has submitted its fifth report in the past six years: it’s a damaging indictment of the GSPC, which was run on a hands-on basis by the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
The fifth is the continuation of YS Chowdary (TDP) in the Modi cabinet against whom there is a non-bailable warrant for non-payment of loans amounting to Rs 100 crore.
Lastly, the latest to beat the Congress with is the Agusta Westland VVIP chopper deal. The BJP is upbeat waving the Italian court’s order in this regard, which hints at corruption at the level of some senior Congress leaders including Sonia Gandhi. While the Congress has rejected the charge the BJP demands that if bribe givers are in jail so should the bribe takers. This seems to be moving along the lines of the Bofors scandal, which cost Rajiv Gandhi his government in the late eighties. The other controversial issues are the Panama papers expose and the extradition of Vijay Mallya.
Issues come and issues go but the point is that why should Parliament be paralysed? There are two major duties of the parliamentarians- the first is passing the legislations and the second is the scrutiny of the budget. The Members of Parliament should realise that if the parliament does not function they would have failed to fulfill their duty.
Losing one more session does not auger well for both the government and the Opposition. It is necessary they should find some meeting ground in passing the pending legislations. The Government has lined up an elaborate legislative business for the two Houses – 13 bills for the Lok Sabha and 11 for the Rajya Sabha. There is a significant legislative backlog.
The financial business, including discussion on demands for grants of various ministries in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, consideration and passing of the Railways Appropriation Bill, 2016 and Finance Bill, 2016 are the main part of the session. The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Second Ordinance, 2016, the long-pending Goods and Service Tax (GST) Bill, Bankruptcy Code Bill, are also awaiting the Parliament nod. Unless these crucial reform bills are passed the investment climate will not improve as the foreign investors are watching closely. Several parts of the country including Maharashtra are reeling under severe drought. The number of farmer suicides is also on the increase. These and other issues pertaining to the common man needs the attention of Parliament. People are already disenchanted with the lawmakers and there may soon come a day when even Parliament might become irrelevant for the public if this continues.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal)