The Lok Sabha is set to see an action-packed day on Monday as the lower House of Parliament takes up the raging debate over snowballing intolerance in the country that has given the Opposition ammunition to aggressively take on the government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not be present during the discussion on “the situation arising out of incidents of intolerance in the country” in the Lok Sabha as he is attending an international climate conference in Paris but will be back when the Rajya Sabha takes it up on Tuesday.
The debate comes two days after Modi met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh at his residence, setting aside a history of mutual bitterness amid signs that the government is reaching out to the Opposition to avoid a repeat of the monsoon session washout.
Much is at stake in the month-long winter session as the government has lined up an ambitious list of bills led by the goods and services tax bill, a landmark tax reform initiative.
On Sunday, parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said the government was ready for a debate on intolerance if the Opposition allowed the House to function but defended the government’s record, indicating the debate was likely to be stormy.
“Nothing has gone wrong during Narendra Modi’s regime as PM, there is absolute tolerance in the country,” Naidu said on Monday.
“Different writers have different opinions, Things used to happen earlier also. During the emergency, constitutional and fundamental rights were crippled, these people (writers) were silent then and violent now.”
During the opening day of the winter session, finance minister Arun Jaitley had also referred to the Emergency imposed by then prime minister Indira Gandhi to attack the Congress.
The debate is being seen as a conciliatory move by the government that has in the past, doggedly refused to comment on the issue, pointing the finger at the Congress for trying to stoke discontent against the NDA.
The country has been rocked by the raging intolerance debate after the murder of three well-known rationalist thinkers, the mob lynching of a Muslim man over cow slaughter rumours and the killing of Dalit children.
A slew of scientists, writers, historians and filmmakers have returned top government awards in protest as activists alleged the government was doing little to quell the spate of communal violence and was fanning sectarian tensions.
Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan have also expressed concern about the intolerance, triggering a torrent of criticism from political leaders, especially controversial BJP parliamentarian Yogi Adityanath and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi.
But the Congress has also been singed by the intolerance row after former finance minister P Chidambaram termed a 1988 ban on Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses was wrong. The BJP has lapped up the opportunity to hit out at the principal opposition party, saying the Congress needed to be a “little tolerant”.