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Terror and chopper hurdles for House

New Delhi, Feb. 19: Parliament’s budget session, beginning on Thursday and to be spread over 21 sittings in the first half and 13 in the second, has a heavy financial and legislative agenda that appears threatened by controversies — from “saffron terror” to the VVIP chopper deal.

The BJP has said it will disrupt proceedings — bills on food security, land acquisition, grievance redress, women’s security, insurance and pension are to come up — unless home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde apologises for his “Hindu terror” remark. It is also planning to picket the homes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Shinde tomorrow.

“What you apologise for has to be gone into. Let’s see what the BJP says in Parliament,” parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said today, asked about the demand.

The ruling Congress has already clarified that it disapproves of the use of the phrase “Hindu terror” or “saffron terror” and Shinde would be happy to toe the party’s line. But the Congress is determined to make its point that several people held for terrorist activities had close links with the Sangh parivar. It knows the BJP can be isolated in Parliament on this issue.

Afzal Guru’s execution has charged the atmosphere and the Congress appears ready to re-ignite the communal-secular rhetoric as it prepares for Narendra Modi’s imminent advent on the national horizon. The Communal Violence Bill has returned on the government’s agenda after a long time, in a surprise move.

The government would want to pass the food security, land acquisition, Lokpal and women’s reservation bills, besides serving up a please-all budget, to arm itself for the 2014 general election.

The BJP, aware that the Congress hopes to make food security its election plank and use the Lokpal bill to fight off charges of corruption, will be looking for excuses to block the two bills. Allies Samajwadi Party and the BSP are also not too happy with the Congress. The women’s reservation bill and the communal violence bill are sure to divide the House. There is no agreement on bills relating to financial reform. On top of that, some parties want to discuss Afzal’s hanging. So a large number of disruptions are in order.

But any loss of time will tell on the packed schedule: in addition to the President’s address and vote of thanks and passing the rail and general budgets, the government has to squeeze in three ordinances, 39 bills, several demands for grants and non-legislative business in the session. It also has to get approval for President’s rule in Jharkhand.

The BJP has threatened to lay siege on the homes of the Prime Minister and the home minister a day before Parliament sits, perhaps indicating what is to come ahead.

The party’s protest against Shinde linking the RSS and BJP to “terror training camps” will kick off with a public meeting to be addressed by BJP president Rajnath Singh and leaders Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu.

Jaitley, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, demanded that the home minister take back his statement and give an unconditional apology. “We have been in the government, we are now in the Opposition. We do not deserve to exist if we have actively done something like this,” he told a television channel today.

The Delhi BJP, headed by Vijay Goel, has been tasked to mobilise “record” crowds for the show at Jantar Mantar from where the protesters propose to head first towards Shinde’s home and then, if police allow, to Manmohan’s 7 Race Course Road residence.

Prodded by the RSS, which fears that renewal of focus on investigations into the role of “Hindutva-leaning” suspects in the Samjhauta Express, Mecca mosque and the Malegaon blasts might nail some of its office-bearers, including veteran Indresh, the BJP has gone for the jugular on Shinde.

A meeting of the executive committee of the BJP’s parliamentary party this morning also decided to raise the VVIP chopper deal and the charges of payoffs. The meeting, chaired by L.K. Advani, agreed to seek a reply from the government on whether the contract stood scrapped and who the ultimate beneficiaries were.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the BJP’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, said UPA ministers were speaking in “different voices”. While defence minister A.K. Antony indicated he would end the deal, foreign minister Salman Khurshid was against such a move, Prasad said.

Jaitley stressed it was the government’s responsibility to identify the bribe-takers, adding granting a parliamentary debate was not enough. “A middleman gets the commission, the bribes go to the decision-makers,” he said.

As the BJP signalled that the government could expect repeated adjournments in Parliament, its Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, held a meeting on Saturday to tutor his MPs to flag 109 state-related issues. These include regulating BT cotton seed prices, allocation of gas for CNG to fuel transport in the big cities, and extending the Ahmedabad-Vadodara expressway to Mumbai.