The budget session of Parliament resumes on Monday at a time bitterness between the Opposition and the Narendra Modi government is escalating and a new crisis has erupted in the form of a trust deficit with the presiding officers of the two Houses.
The Opposition parties believe the politics of intimidation has crossed tolerable limits, with the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI selectively targeting their leaders, and they are furious about the conduct of Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar inside and outside Parliament.
One senior member told The Telegraph: “It has gone beyond the natural partisan bias; the chairman is behaving like the trouble-shooter of the ruling party.”
The Opposition parties are unhappy with Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla too and point out that references critical of Narendra Modi and questions about the Prime Minister’s links with tycoon Gautam Adani were expunged in both Houses of Parliament. But they find Dhankhar’s “political speeches” outside Parliament far more disturbing.
Birla on Sunday appeared to contest Rahul Gandhi’s statement that mikes of Opposition MPs had been switched off several times.
Speaking at the 146th assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Manama in Bahrain, he said India has a robust participatory democracy and members have the freedom to express their views. But he didn’t go beyond that, unlike Dhankhar who on Saturday appealed to the public to teach “these people” a lesson.
Many Opposition MPs said the Rajya Sabha would have to deal with this issue seriously. Dhankhar on Sunday called an all-party meeting where Opposition members insisted they be given enough opportunities in the House to raise burning issues. He also met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge separately to seek cooperation for the smooth conduct of the Rajya Sabha.
But sources said the chances of Parliament functioning normally were slim. Dhankhar’s appointment of his personal staff to parliamentary standing committees has also enraged Opposition members. Staff of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha secretariats are normally attached to the committees.
Like the first half, the second half of the budget session is bound to witness uproarious scenes because the Opposition is seething at the government’s “vendetta politics”. While almost all the parties are determined to raise the issue, the Congress plans also to raise the Adani issue forcefully and link it to the selective targeting of opponents. The floor strategy will be decided on Monday morning at a meeting called by the leader of the Opposition, Mallikarjun Kharge.
Asked if the Adani issue would be raised again, the Congress whip in the Lok Sabha, Manickam Tagore, said: “Of course. The government hasn’t answered any of the questions asked by the Congress. The Prime Minister is completely silent on this issue while lecturing the nation on corruption. We will forcefully raise all issues of people’s concerns, particularly the increase in LPG prices and the conspiracy to silence the Opposition by using agencies.”
Some incidents have intensified the unease in the Opposition camp. While the CBI and the ED have reopened the land-for-railway-jobs case against Lalu Prasad’s family, Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia is in jail in an excise policy case and K. Kavitha, daughter of Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, is being grilled in the same case. Trinamul and the Samajwadi Party too agree that the politics of intimidation has crossed limits.
The BJP, on the other hand, is targeting Rahul for his statements in London, including the one about mikes being switched off in Parliament — an allegation the Congress leader made several times during the Bharat Jodo Yatra too. BJP leaders allege that Rahul has sought the intervention of Europe and America to save democracy in India.
Appearing before the Privileges Committee of the Lok Sabha on Friday, BJP member Nishikant Dubey accused Rahul of habitual breach of privilege and demanded cancellation of his Lok Sabha membership. BJP Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur, who had praised Mahatma Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse, has now said that Rahul’s patriotism is in doubt because his mother was born in Italy and that he should be thrown out of India for defaming the country. A session starting amid such rancour and distrust is bound to suffer.