As political battlelines were drawn on the intolerance debate, government agreed to most demands raised by Opposition in an apparent bid to win it over to make way for passage of crucial legislations such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Parliament.
The actual Winter Session, however, begins from Monday as the first two days are devoted to a separate discussion in both the Houses on “Commitment to India’s Constitution as part of the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Dr BR Ambedkar.” The government wanted to pilot a resolution for this discussion but yielded to the suggestion of Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azadthat the Chair move a unanimous resolution.
The government’s approach has ignited hopes even within the Opposition that the 28-day session could be productive unlike the last session, which was a total washout.
The ruling side held a series of meetings through the day, beginning with an all-party meeting convened by parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu. At the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a brief appearance and said people had a lot of expectations from Parliament and asked all parties to work together for it to function “constructively”. He assured the Opposition parties that finance minister Arun Jaitleywould talk to them on GST and environment minister Prakash Javadekar will seek their views on India’s stand on the resolution on climate change ahead of the Paris Summit.
The mood in the Opposition, spurred by the Bihar election result, was visibly aggressive at the all-party meeting. Azad said while there were reports that the finance minister would reach out to the Opposition on GST, there were other reports that the Opposition’s position was preposterous. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury wanted government to talk to states since they would lose all legislative powers, once the GST came into force.
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien demanded that government clarify its stand on the land acquisition bill and if the parliamentary panel should continue or be wound up in the light of the Prime Minister’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ remarks on allowing the Ordinance to lapse. Naidu said the government will respond in the House.
He also said that though the intolerance issue, sparked off following incidents like Dadri and Kalburgi’s killing, fell in the domain of states, the government was ready to discuss all issues.
Later, Jaitley walked up to Azad and discussed the resolution to be adopted at the two-day special session on Ambedkar.
However, Opposition leaders said it all depended on how government conducted itself over next two days. The sittings were expected to become acrimonious at times but not totally disruptive, said a senior leader, who was in the meeting. Leader of main Opposition Congress in Lok Sabha, Malikarjun Kharge said at the all-party meeting that the Prime Minister came at the fag end and stayed for just 8-9 minutes.
The issue of intolerance came into focus in the meeting in the backdrop of a massive row over actor Amir Khan’s remarks that his wife had suggested leaving India because of repeated instances of intolerance.
The Opposition would also seize the opportunity during the debate on the Constitution to highlight how it had been “abused” by government in many aspects undermining constitutional bodies.
Azad said his party has sought a debate on “intolerance,” while Yechury said he has submitted a one-line resolution in the Rajya Sabha for passage against intolerance. “We want the House to pass a resolution to condemn growing intolerance and ask the government to implement the law of the land to put an end to hate speeches and polarisation,” he said.
Among the issues listed by the Opposition for discussion are price rise, return of awards, lynching of a man in Uttar Pradesh over beef and controversial statements made by union ministers and BJP and RSS leaders.
Congress leaders said intolerance would have dominated the winter session irrespective of Aamir Khan’s remarks that have fuelled public discourse. This is likely to cast a shadow on proceedings in both Houses, although Congress appears more interested in extracting answers from government this time than forcing disruptions.
“Monsoon session was a washout because the nation was worried about Vyapam and Lalit-gate. Those issues remain unresolved and several more problems have cropped up as the winter session starts,” a Congress strategist said.
“Intolerance is, of course, the main issue as it is not only about stray incidents but the mindset of the ruling establishment. We would expect not only a verbal commitment from the Prime Minister but action against the willful violators of the constitutional scheme.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has already set the tone for the parliamentary discourse by joining the controversy stirred by Aamir Khan’s comments. Sources said Rahul would himself raise the issue in Lok Sabha to make it clear that certain unfortunate incidents had acquired alarming proportions because of the government’s inaction and the attempt by central ministers and BJP parliamentarians to defend and rationalise the criminal acts.