Siren wails to signal all-out House war

Sonia to lead Cong dharna

By Sanjay K. Jha and our bureau
  • Published 22.07.15

New Delhi, July 21: The Centre's combative posture on the first day of the monsoon session has prompted the Congress to firm up an aggressive response that is expected to spill out of Parliament Hall tomorrow.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have given the go-ahead to disruptive tactics, contending that forcing accountability on the government was the legitimate duty of the Opposition in a democracy.

The party prevented the Rajya Sabha from conducting any substantial business today. The acrimonious duel between the treasury and the Opposition benches led to five adjournments.

The battle in the Lok Sabha, which was adjourned in the morning to pay condolences, will begin with a dharna in the Parliament complex by the Congress leadership tomorrow morning.

The Congress is feeling emboldened by the unambiguous support of the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Janata Dal United, RJD and the Left. All these parties endorsed the Congress line that running Parliament was impossible without the resignations of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and chief ministers Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the Lalit Modi scandal and the Vyapam scam.

Sonia, for the first time, will lead party leaders in the protest in front of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the Parliament complex tomorrow at 10.30am, just before the two Houses convene.

The strategy was firmed up at a meeting of Congress Lok Sabha members this morning when the majority of members advocated an aggressive stand, insisting that the gravity of the scams would be undermined by allowing normal business in Parliament.

Shashi Tharoor had some reservations and pointed out that the party should take note of the negative perception about disruption of parliamentary proceedings beyond a point.

He said many people wanted Parliament to work and hence the party should be able to explain to them why disruptions were necessary and under what compulsion such a tactic was adopted. Tharoor also wondered whether 44 members would be able to sustain the pressure in the Lok Sabha.

Many other members strongly differed, although Rahul agreed the party would have to clearly explain to the people the gravity of the situation and convince them that the government was violating the principle of accountability.

Sonia too supported the aggressive line as several members contested Tharoor's logic by pointing out that the allegations in the Lalit Modi affair and the Vyapam scam were too serious to let the government off the hook.

Sonia gave her verdict at the end, asserting that it was about accountability, not numbers. Rahul agreed with the Congress president and it was decided that the party would fight with all its might in the Lok Sabha without being fettered by the numerical constraints.

In the Rajya Sabha too, the sceptics were silenced as the dominant view supported an all-out confrontation even if it meant a washout of all 18 working days.

The aggressive intent of the Congress was manifest in a protest launched by the women's wing today. This will be followed by demonstrations in every state.

Senior leaders working on the parliamentary strategy today resolved to ensure that the party machinery acted in tandem by spreading the message to the masses. Directives are being sent to all state units to launch agitations on Vyapam and the Lalit scandal.

In the evening, senior Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma told a media conference: "We will force accountability. If the Prime Minister thinks he can brazen it out, we want to make it absolutely clear he is sadly mistaken. They have a huge mandate but when it comes to probity, propriety and morality, it is not about numbers. It is about law and precedents."

Sharma, who had moved a motion in the Rajya Sabha for suspension of business to discuss the conduct of Swaraj and Vasundhara in helping Lalit Modi, said: "Arun Jaitley is misleading the nation by saying that the Congress is running away from debate. There is a rule under which a motion for resignation can be moved. We moved a motion for suspension of business to explain why we are demanding resignations."

He added: "We will discuss this issue but the line is clear. First, resignations. Then investigation. Then debate. What is there for Swaraj's statement? We have heard from her that she was helping the fugitive on humanitarian grounds. For 10 years, the BJP set yardsticks for the UPA; we removed ministers as they came under a cloud of suspicion. There was no FIR, no case but we removed them."

Natwar Singh, Ashok Chavan, Pawan Bansal and Ashwini Kumar had to go without any case registered against them.

Sharma said the Prime Minister was moving around with the façade of "zero tolerance" on corruption and yet protecting those who broke the law.

Referring to Vasundhara's affidavit in favour of Lalit Modi, Sharma said: "The BJP is saying it is a non-issue. What is a bigger issue than clandestinely helping a fugitive, giving an affidavit with a plea that India should not come to know? The BJP has no sense of responsibility."