Did Rahul Gandhi break Opposition unity by meeting PM Modi?
The month-long Winter Session of the Parliament which finally ended on Friday, can easily be deemed as a complete washout. A united Opposition protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's currency ban ensured that hardly any business was transacted during the session that began on 16 November.
However, there was a twist in the tale on the last day of the Parliament that witnessed fissures cropped up in Opposition unity after Rahul Gandhi led a delegation of Congress leaders to meet the prime minister to raise farmers' issues. During the course of the meeting Rahul urged the prime minister to waive off farmers' loans at the earliest. Senior party leaders from UP and Punjab were present during the meeting.
"Removal of import duty on wheat is a devastating blow. The PM acknowledged that the situation of farmers is serious. On my urging that farmers' loans should be waived, the PM didn't say anything. He simply listened," the Gandhi said.
Non-Congress parties up in arms
His decision irked Opposition parties who then decided to skip the Congress-led march to the Presidential Palace. Out of the 16 parties, only Trinamool Congress and Congress' allies in Bihar - Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal - participated in the march led by Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
BSP, SP, NCP, DMK, Left parties, among others dropped out of the march minutes before it was to commence from Parliament House. SP and BSP leaders were particularly upset with the Congress' decision to meet the prime minister.
"We were never taken into confidence about the march to President's House. Anyway, what will happen by meeting the President? Will he extend the Session? Will he scrap demonetisation? Will he sack the prime minister over poor implementation of currency ban? He doesn't have enough powers. So, it was a just a photo opportunity and we didn't feel it to be so important," said Javed Ali of the SP.
He went on to add that Rahul's decision to meet the prime minister is part of the Congress agenda and "we have nothing to do with it". On the question of whether Rahul's meeting PM created differences within the Opposition, Ali disagreed and claimed we all stand together in our fight against the poor preparedness about demonetisation and how it has hurt the poorest of the poor in the country.
Meanwhile, a senior Congress MP said it was natural for SP and even BSP to be upset about the decision to meet the prime minister. "We held a month-long kisan yatra in UP which focussed on raising the plight of farmers with the government. Since SP and BSP are our opponents in UP, it is natural for them to oppose the move. I don't know why NCP decided to skip the march," he said.
The senior leader, however, disagreed about any rift within the Opposition that has been constantly disrupting the Winter Session over the implementation of demonetisation scheme. Even NCP leader Majeed Memon ruled out the possibility of a rift within the Opposition and said, "We stand united on the poor implementation of currency ban. I don't know why NCP didn't participate. We got orders from party president Sharad Pawar to skip the march," he said.
On the issue of Rahul meeting the prime minister over farmers' issues just two days after accusing him of "personal corruption" and not substantiating his claim, Memon said no one knows what the Congress vice-president has in his possession. "As far as his meeting with PM is concerned, it is Congress' prerogative since they have two crucial elections to fight in UP and Punjab. Not much should be made out of it," he added.
Till the time the Parliament meets again, the opposition parties are planning to hit the streets over the ills of demonetisation and how it has caused distress to the common man. And most of the leaders Catch spoke to confirmed that if the cash crunch doesn't ease by the time Parliament convenes again, the united Opposition would continue to corner the government over demonetisation.
Session washed out
Meanwhile, legislative work became the victim of repeated disruptions and the entire session witnessed passage of the amendment to the Income Tax Bill as money Bill, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill and two Appropriation Bills. Close to 20 bills, already introduced in the Parliament, are yet to be discussed on the floor of both the houses. Even no private member Bills were introduced this session.
At the start of the session, 55 bills were pending and with the introduction of 10 more, the tally of pending bills stands at 60. Moreover, the two houses combined together ran for a total of 41 hours with Lok Sabha running for 19 hours and Rajya Sabha doing marginally better with 22 hours. Even the implementation of the GST Bill suffered as its passage has been delayed till the upcoming Budget Session.