From 16 November to 14 December, we have finally reached the last three working days of Winter Session which, as I had mentioned in an earlier article (Parliament logjam eroding the basic tenets of India’s representative democracy), has witnessed near-total disruption causing the wastage of almost Rs 400 crore of taxpayers’ money.
Unfortunately, the unfolding of recent events inspire no confidence that the remaining 72 hours will see any proceedings being held, leave alone the passing of any of the pending 23 bills or even a meaningful debate on demonetisation.
If the decommissioning of notes brought about a hostile stasis in India’s supreme legislative body, the mood has been exacerbated by a game of chess that started with CBI’s arrest of former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi in AgustaWestland case. As soon as BJP got political ammo with the IAF chief’s lawyer dragging Manmohan Singh-led PMO into the scam, the Congress on Tuesday hit back with gusto, unleashing a charge of its own by targeting Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju in what is being called Arunachal power project ‘scam’.
Whether or not former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s office was involved in the procurement of VVIP choppers or Rijiju misused his office for nepotism is a moot point. What matters is Congress’s bishop trying to counter BJP’s rook in a complicated opening gambit. The Congress believes in the “scam” charge against Rijiju it finally has a deterrent against BJP stirring the political pot too much over AgustaWestland, a case which it finds distinctly uncomfortable to deal with.
Beset by consistent claims that all scams can be traced at its door, the Congress sees a golden chance in overturning the narrative. It has already demanded the removal of Rijiju, with spokesperson Randeep Surjewala saying, “The role of Kiren Rijiju in this issue is under cloud. He has no right to stay in office. He should either be dismissed by the prime minister or asked to resign till an independent probe is complete.”
Rijiju, however, has denied all charges. The minister told The Times of India that instead of leveling charges against him, the Congress should apologise to the nation and to him because “all the contract works were allotted during Congress’s time. All payments were (also) made during Congress’s time. We were not in the government. I was not even an MP at the time.”
The Grand Old Party, however, has taken an aggressive stance vowing to raise the issue both inside and outside the Parliament, an euphemism for more disruptive tactics. Congress’s belligerence is in contrast with its earlier ambivalence over demonetisation when it was unsure about openly criticising a move that had eradication of black money as one of its stated goals. But 35 days into the move, shoddy implementation, collusion of bank officials with the corrupt, an economy grinding to a halt and never-ending queues for elusive cash have slowly turned an euphoric electorate into a restive one.
Narendra Modi, who earlier looked to be running away with all plaudits for implementing a bold move, now has to spend considerable amount of time persuading the populace not to lose patience. In this fast altering economic and political scenario, the Opposition believes it has hit upon the right formula. It has forged a unity out of divergent views and goals and wants a debate in the Lower House with provision for voting. In Rajya Sabha, after many shifting of goal posts, it now wants the Prime Minister to sit through the entire debate and even apologise for his earlier remarks linking some political parties to black money.
Though the government has indicated that Modi will be present in the Parliament over the next three days (a key Opposition demand), it certainly won’t concede easy ground. It, therefore, remains to be seen how rest of the Winter Session pans out. Only a brave punter will bet against more disruptions.
First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 07:57 IST