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Govt wakes up to RS ‘reality’

Television footage of Narendra Modi with ministers Prakash Javadekar and Jitendra Singh in the Rajya Sabha. (PTI)

New Delhi, Aug. 14: The Narendra Modi government today acknowledged the “reality” that it lacks a majority in the Rajya Sabha as the marathon budget-monsoon session ended today.

Parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu showcased the passage of the judicial commission bill and the enabling Constitution amendment bill as “landmark achievements”, but also spoke of the “opportunity and challenges” that lay ahead because of the ruling combine’s lack of numbers in the upper House.

“One particular reality of the composition of Parliament being that the ruling coalition is in (a) minority in the Rajya Sabha, (is that) it offered both an opportunity and challenges in different ways to different political coalitions,” he said.

Naidu took a swipe at the Congress, which had leveraged its majority in the upper House to defer the passage of the tweaked insurance bill till the winter session. In a media conference after the proceedings were over, Naidu said: “For the ruling coalition, it offered a challenge of working with the majority Opposition and for the Opposition, the opportunity of joining hands with the government, rising above political considerations for the good of the nation, particularly when the economy is not in good shape.”

Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley were keen on seeing the insurance bill through because the proposed hike in the FDI cap in the insurance sector from 26 to 49 per cent would have increased its outreach in a big way, besides bringing in foreign capital.

Naidu underlined the government’s despondency. “True to our stated commitment to rejuvenate a sluggish economy, the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill was the first of the desired initiatives we wanted passed during this session. Unfortunately, the Congress, the original author of this important bill, and a few other parties had different ideas and we missed the opportunity.”

Fending off criticism, including from Modi cheerleaders in the media, that the budget was “conventional” and bereft of “ideas”, Naidu claimed: “I would like to refer to one comment of some experts that Shri Arun Jaitley’s maiden budget was not a ‘big bang’ one. For this, the finance minister himself made it clear that his proposals were only a beginning and a broad indication of what was to follow. On the whole, both the budgets (general and railway) were well received.”

Naidu said no purpose would be served if the ruling coalition and the Opposition accused each other of going back on their stated positions, forgetting that in the 10 years of UPA rule the BJP had frequently resorted to disruptions in Parliament that took a toll on legislative business. “The need of the hour,” he added, “is collective and constructive action.”

The insurance bill has been sent to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha headed by MP Chandan Mitra. The panel is expected to give its report well before the winter session so that the government has time to scrutinise and perhaps incorporate its proposals.