Opposition Likely To Corner Modi Govt On Farm Laws, Fuel Hike And Covid-19

Even as the government convened an all-party meeting on the eve of the Monsoon session of Parliament seeking cooperation from the Opposition for smooth functioning of both the Houses, a controversial ‘Pegasus report’ on possible wire-tapping of selected members of the Cabinet, RSS leaders, Supreme Court judges and journalists threatens to derail the government’s well-laid plans.

The international investigative report, likely to be released later today, is expected to create furore in Parliament with the Opposition using it to corner the Narendra Modi-led government. Even without it, the combative Opposition parties appear determined to corner the government for its failure at Covid-19 management, controversial farm laws and sky-rocketing fuel prices. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who attended the all-party meeting convened by Parliamentary Affairs minister Pralhad Joshi, is believed to have assured the Opposition leaders that the government is willing to discuss all issues in the Parliament and requested them to respect the sanctity and maintain decorum in both the Houses. Joshi briefed the Opposition members about the agenda, including the 38 pending bills.

The Opposition seems in no mood to make it easy for the government. They have indicated that the government cannot expect smooth functioning of Parliament if it continues to “mock” democracy. Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Derek O’Brien tweeted ahead of the all-party meeting — “Today. Another all-party meeting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha leaders before Monsoon Session starts. Trinamool to keep urging the BJP govt not to mock Parliament. Legislation is serious business. Bills needs to be SCRUTINIZED not bulldozed. This graphic tells a sorry tale.”

The graphic gives details of decreasing number of Bills being referred to the Standing Committee of Parliament in the past seven years. While as many as 60 per cent and 71 per cent Bills were referred to the Standing Committee in the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, respectively; under NDA, the number has come down to 25 per cent in 16th Lok Sabha and 11 per cent in the current Lok Sabha.

Other Opposition parties are also finalising their strategies to corner the government and improve coordination among one another. Former ally of BJP Shiromani Akali Dal has appealed to other parties including NCP, DMK, TMC, BSP and Shiv Sena to support its demand for the repeal of the contentious farm laws. Preparing to take on the government, the Congress has reconstituted the party’s Parliament groups for both the Houses for effective functioning. Party president Sonia Gandhi put all speculation to rest about changing leader of the house in Lok Sabha by letting Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury continue.

The Congress has also indicated that it would raise the border row with China in both Houses in addition to the crumbling health system in the country, spiralling fuel prices and inflation.

Sources claim that the government is ready to respond to whatever the Opposition raises in Parliament. “We also want the House to function smoothly and legislative business to be conducted in an amicable atmosphere. But it’s probably too much to expect,” says a BJP leader.

On its part, the government has reached out to the Opposition over the last few days. Defence minister Rajnath Singh briefed Congress leader A.K. Antony and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar – both of whom have handled the defence portfolio – on the India-China border situation and also about the preparedness of the Indian forces. The meeting was also attended by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and Army Chief Gen M M Naravane. The Opposition, particularly the Congress, has been critical of the government for not taking them into confidence on matters of national security, and the meeting by Rajnath Singh has been seen as a positive outreach.

Newly appointed leader of Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal also called on Pawar and former PM Manmohan Singh on July 16 as a “courtesy” and to seek their cooperation in smooth functioning of the House.

Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu also chaired a meeting of leaders of various parties and groups in the Upper House on July 17. He urged them to stand by people amid the pandemic and discuss all issues related to it in the House to address the concerns of the citizens. “A dysfunctional Parliament adds to the prevailing gloom and hence, all sections of the House should ensure a smooth and productive session as it offers an opportunity to address the concerns of the people affected by COVID-19,” he said.

In addition to the 38 pending Bills, the government has listed 17 new Bills for introduction in the session. These include Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which replaces an ordinance; the Limited Liability Partnership (Amendment) Bill, 2021; the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2021; and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

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