The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Price rise debate in empty House

New Delhi, Dec. 9: Some hit the streets ' the BJP, for example ' some even organised bandhs ' Mamata Banerjee, for one. Price rise is a problem which leaves MPs in sleepless anguish, so much so that only 40 out of 544 could make an appearance in the Lok Sabha when it came up for discussion this afternoon.

Believed to be searching desperately for a stick to beat the Manmohan Singh government with, the BJP had marched through the streets of Delhi last month over inflation, led by the rise in petroleum prices.

When the discussion started around 2.30 pm, only nine of its MPs were present in the House. The Congress could field a team of only half-a-dozen.

Congress members, however, had a bigger event on their minds this day, the birthday of supreme leader Sonia Gandhi. There were ladoos to take to 10 Janpath or gargantuan garlands to be slipped round her neck. They were possibly too busy rising to the occasion to be exercised over price rise.

Harin Pathak, who was minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, shouted: 'The Prime Minister is absent, the UPA chairperson is absent.'

Pathak's outburst came in reaction to science and technology minister Kapil Sibal's comment that Lal Krishna Advani was not in the House. But his counter-attack lacked edge because of the empty Opposition benches that stood in stark contrast to the importance the BJP had earlier given to the issue.

It had insisted on a discussion under Rule 184, under which voting is mandatory, to expose the perceived internal contradictions on the ruling side. It had hoped the Left, which has opposed the petroleum price increase, would be forced to vote against its allies in government. Eventually, though, it had to settle for a discussion under Rule 193, which does not involve voting.

The CPM, the most conscientious objector to the price rise, did not put its members where its mouth is. Its attendance figure could only have formed a cricket team without a 12th man ' that's how serious the party is about an issue affecting the 'common man'.

First, Opposition member P.C. Thomas pointed out that petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was absent at the start of the debate. An angry Sibal shot back: 'This is a very important debate, many of our ministers are here. I wish the Opposition gave the same importance. Where is the leader of the Opposition (Advani). (The) LoP is absent during all important discussions.'

Earlier this week, both Sonia and Advani had chided MPs for playing truant. The reprimand has had no effect.

If 2.30 was siesta time, the following two hours were no better, plumbing the day's depth of 37 around 4.30.

That did not stop a walkout, though, when finance minister P. Chidambaram's reply failed to satisfy the Opposition. Mamata, who had called a bandh on price rise, led it. Her party Trinamul's attendance record was 100 per cent, or 1 out of 1 ' she being the only MP.

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