After four successive days of logjam in Parliament, the Congress-BJP sparring intensified on Thursday with the Congress General-Secretary Rahul Gandhi asserting that his remarks overseas had been deliberately distorted by the BJP to divert attention from the Adani-Hindenburg issue. The BJP charged back, demanding an apology from Gandhi and threatening to launch a countrywide campaign against him.
The routine business of Parliament is, meanwhile, neglected with not a single meeting of the floor leaders of all parties having been convened nor any attempt made to reach a resolution to solve the impasse. In the midst of this confrontation, at stake are discussions on crucial issues such as demand for grants for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir for the Financial Year (FY) 2022-23, supplementary demand for grants, Finance Bill along with 26 other bills. Five departments, including Railways, Agriculture, Road and Transport, Health and Women and Child Welfare, have been picked for discussion on the Budget, while all other ministries would be guillotined.
Rahul Gandhi seeks time to speak on floor of House
Gandhi, on his part, met the Lok Sabha leader Om Birla and requested him to grant time for speaking on the floor of the House. The BJP is demanding his apology for saying Indian democracy is in peril while on a UK tour. “If Indian democracy was functioning, I would be able to say my piece in Parliament,” he said. “So, actually what you are saying is a test of Indian democracy, after four BJP leaders made allegations about a member of Parliament, is that member of Parliament going to be given the same space that those four members were given, or is he be going to be told to shut up,” he said. Gandhi was referring to the accusation made by four senior ministers that he has “insulted” and “belittled” Indian democracy on foreign shores. Gandhi said the whole “tamasha” around his remarks in the UK has been created by the government to divert attention from the Adani issue.
BJP organised a press conference soon after Gandhi’s briefing to assert the demand for his apology. “Rahul Gandhi has made a habit of demeaning Indian democracy on foreign soil. He must apologise,” said BJP leader and former Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Earlier in the day, the Lok Sabha was adjourned, while MPs from the ruling side as well as the Opposition congregated to discuss their strategy. Opposition MPs formed a human chain to press their demand for a JPC on the Adani-Hindenburg. “PM come to the House. Respond to our questions (on Adani),” the Opposition MPs protested.
The Rajya Sabha, too, was adjourned when both the ruling party MPs and Opposition members protested – the BJP on Gandhi’s “democracy in peril” remarks and the Opposition on Hindenburg. MPs from TMC covered their faces with black scarves alleging that it is the government, which is obstructing business in the House.
‘Protest not the best strategy’
Lok Sabha member from Kollam, N. K. Premchandran, who was selected as the best MP in 2016 his prescient interventions, has interesting insights to offer on the present logjam.
“When a government has the kind of brute majority of the kind the BJP has, obstruction and protest is not the best strategy for the Opposition. It suits the government to have pandemonium in the House because that way they can push whatever proposed bills or amendments they want. They have the numbers after all,” Premchandran told businesslines.
He said the practice of Parliamentary Affairs Minister routinely calling Opposition floor leaders to evolve consensus on different contentious issues has been effectively abandoned.
“It is primarily the responsibility of the government to ensure that Parliament functions. But that is not the convention that suits the present establishment,” said Premchandran.