New Delhi, Sept. 4: The morning didn’t show the day.
The pension bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and the land bill in the Rajya Sabha after a complete breakdown of relations between the Congress and the BJP gave way to a breakthrough in the evening.
The government smelt trouble last night itself and the Prime Minister had moved swiftly to invite BJP leaders with a specific plea to keep politics aside for the sake of the country as the economy required booster shots.
Although no compromise could be reached and the BJP stuck to its guns on the coal controversy, the new team of finance minister P. Chidambaram and parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath worked on the BJP leaders this morning to resolve the impasse. BJP sources gave credit to Chidambaram’s “diplomacy”, “patience” and “sobriety”. ( )
In the absence of Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister, defence minister A.K. Antony, who is officially number two in the government, and home minister Sushil Shinde, who is the Leader of the Lok Sabha, should have normally taken charge.
But Chidambaram and Nath took it upon themselves to salvage the government’s legislative agenda from the political ruckus in the true spirit of collective leadership.
They demonstrated extraordinary flexibility to allow the Opposition leaders to “have their say” on the coal files which restored normality in Parliament.
Although the Prime Minister had yesterday indicated that a discussion on the coal controversy was not possible as the matter was sub judice, the government today agreed to such an exercise which turned out to be a meaningless effort.
All the floor leaders gave vent to their feelings on the issue. But in the absence of coal minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal and the Prime Minister, the government emerged unscathed from the discussion.
Sources revealed that the political management also had an element of “subtle blackmail”. The government’s managers informed BJP leaders who were bent on derailing Parliament on the coal controversy that the JD(U), BSP, RJD and a few Congress members wanted D.G. Vanzara’s letter to be discussed in the House.
The BJP was told that a full-fledged discussion on the coal files was acceptable only if they agreed on a debate on Vanzara. The trick worked and the BJP mellowed, accepting a milder, face-saving discussion on coal.
How the Congress managed its friendly parties was reflected in the line taken by RJD leader Prabhunath Singh on the missing coal files. He told the Lok Sabha: “The Prime Minister doesn’t lock up files and keep the keys. The CBI officer who wants to question the Prime Minister for the files should be punished. The BJP should also not undermine institutions and malign top leaders for narrow political gains.”
Even the JD(U), BSP and the Samajwadi Party were soft though they wanted an inquiry.
This was no mean achievement at a time the Congress had taken its anti-Modi offensive to a high, iterating today that the Gujarat chief minister had no moral right to stay in office for a minute after the revelations in the letter written by the jailed police officer.
Several Congress leaders, in addition to the official spokespersons, joined the chorus to slam Modi, claiming that his regime represented the worst kind of subversion of the rule of law. For the first time, Congress members were seen inside the Lok Sabha with “quit-Modi” posters.
Oblivious to the compromise in Parliament, party spokesperson M. Afzal turned the needle of suspicion towards BJP leaders on a sting operation and read out at a media conference excerpts from Vanzara’s letter.
Asked how the BJP turned around suddenly to co-operate with the government in Parliament when the war with Modi still raged, a senior Congress leader said: “That’s our management!”
There may be more to it than meets the eye but several Congress leaders felt the floor management in Parliament was at its best today. The perception was reflected in the Samajwadi Party’s somersault on the pension bill. Samajwadi member Shailendra Kumar criticised several provisions before declaring unambiguously: “We oppose this bill.”
Within minutes, Kapil Sibal and Kamal Nath were on their feet, working on Mulayam Singh Yadav to exorcise the influence of Basudeb Acharia and Gurudas Dasgupta who guided the veteran socialist to oppose the legislation that would “destroy the working class”.
When voting took place, Mulayam Singh’s party voted for the government, leaving the Left, BJD and the Trinamul Congress isolated in the Opposition camp.
Chidambaram also silenced the DMK and the RJD who were arguing against the bill. He reminded them of their presence in the cabinet in 2005 when the bill was approved.
The government is not satisfied and wants more. It proposed to the BJP for a further extension of this session by a week to get some more bills passed.
The BJP has not yet accepted the proposal but nothing can be said with certainty in this season when the vagaries of Parliament weather can put nature to shame.