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'Hijacking the House': why is Congress creating a logjam again?

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 1:14 IST

The criticism

  • On Monday, Rajya Sabha deputy chairman PJ Kurien blamed Congress for \'hijacking\' the House
  • Cong MPs raised slogans demanding the suspension of the Punjab assembly, after atrocities against Dalits came to light

The logjam

  • For two successive Parliament sessions, there hasn\'t been much meaningful business in Parliament
  • The Congress has taken the lead in stalling the House, but blames the govt for not engaging enough on serious issues

More in the story

  • Why the Congress is dilly-dallying on the GST Bill
  • The Gandhis have to be present in court in the National Herald case on Saturday - the potential impact

On Monday, 14 December, when opposition MPs were shouting slogans in the well of the Rajya Sabha, the deputy chairman, PJ Kurien, said: "Some members are hijacking the House. You are hijacking the House. It is most undemocratic and most unfortunate that a few members take the House to ransom."

It wasn't a surprise that Kurien would criticise the logjam in the House. It's not easy for even seasoned politicians to keep their cool when, for two Parliament sessions in a row, not much meaningful business has been conducted, and no Bills have been passed.

Also read - 5 reasons why the Congress has lost the plot on Parliament logjam

Shouting slogans

Congress MPs shouted slogans demanding the suspension of the Punjab assembly in the wake of the recent atrocities on Dalits in the state. They blamed the ruling Akali Dal (Badal), one of whose leaders owned a farmhouse where the limbs of two Dalit men were chopped off. They also demanded that the Akali Dal's ally in the state government, the BJP, strongly condemn the incident and the Centre should suspend the assembly.

Not all opposition parties joined the Congress in the vocal protest, though many of them put on record their protest against the incident in the House. BSP supremo Mayawati also shared the same demands.

In the meantime, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj got up to make a statement about her recent visit to Islamabad. But this was rendered inaudible due to the uproar in the House. When Swaraj tried to give the statement in the Lok Sabha, she faced a walkout by the Opposition.

For the second session in a row, no Bills have been passed, and hardly any business has taken place

The BJP insists that the Congress is intentionally not letting Parliament function. This is also the growing opinion among the public.

With just a few days remaining till the end of the winter session, it's unlikely that any meaningful business will be conducted. And while it may be damaging the Congress's reputation outside the walls of Parliament House, the mood in the party camp isn't swayed.

Blame game

delhi basti fire pti embed 1

Photo: PTI

The question, quite simply, is this: Why is the Congress doing this, and who is actually suffering the consequences of its politics?

Forget the passing of Bills, there isn't even much meaningful debate and discussion on issues. It's indeed an unfortunate scenario for the people of the country.

But the Congress is undeterred - it wants to fight its battles both inside and outside the House. Senior leader Shakeel Ahmad puts the blame on the government's shoulders. "We want the house to function. We want Bills to be passed. But the government is not ready for debate, and not acting on issues of urgent importance," he told Catch.

Also read - Congress' conundrum: Why Shashi Tharoor disapproves of party's disruption tactics in the parliament

Asked if a non-functioning House wasn't a national loss, Ahmad said: "In the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014), out of 1,350 possible hours of business, the BJP didn't let the House function for 950 hours."

Another senior Congress leader, Anand Sharma, added: "Engagement between the government and the opposition cannot be restricted to one issue. After not engaging the opposition for 18 months, the government is desperate to discuss with us just one Bill (GST)."

Jaitley uses Nehru against Congress

On Monday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wrote a comment piece on his Facebook page, titled 'Pandit Nehru and Parliament'.

He stated: "The last session of the Parliament did not function. The current Session of the Parliament is also threatened with a washout. The reasons for the washout of the current session keep changing by the hour."

Jaitley went on to quote Nehru himself. "Here, we have sat in this Parliament, the sovereign authority of India, responsible for the governance of India. Surely, there can be no higher responsibility or greater privilege than to be a member of this sovereign body which is responsible for the fate of the vast number of human beings who live in this country. All of us, if not always, at any rate from time to time, must have felt this high sense of responsibility and destiny to which we had been called. Whether we were worthy of it or not is another matter. We have functioned, therefore, during these five years not only on the edge of history but sometimes plunging into the processes of making history."

Cong leaders say 'govt is not ready for debate', and 'isn't acting on issues of urgent importance'

He concluded by asking: "Those who claim the legacy of Panditji must ask themselves the question, what kind of history are they making?"

The Congress strongly rejected his allegations. Sharma told reporters in the House: "We are not changing [reasons] by the hour. The Modi government is creating issues and trying to destabilise our governments in states."

He said the 'victimisation of non-BJP led states' is another serious issue, and a detailed statement on it is possible on Tuesday. This means another reason for uproar in the House, and a further continuation of the logjam looks inevitable.

How things are expected to pan out

delhi basti fire pti embed 2

Photo: PTI

The excuses the Congress is giving for not letting the GST Bill be discussed sound unreasonable. There was no clarity from the party on Monday whether it is ready to discuss it. The absence of the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, was given as the excuse.

Party MPs were busy protesting in the Rajya Sabha and at the gate of Parliament House. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi was busy opposing the demolition of a slum in Delhi.

A close observer of the Congress explains the lack of urgency as follows. "The chances of passage of the GST Bill are nil. Even if it gets passed, it can't be implemented from 1 February, the date announced by the government. It needs to be passed in both Houses. Then, a constitutional amendment is required. Three other bills related to it need to be passed, followed by 50% state assemblies accepting it. Then local bodies and corporations need to be strengthened to deal with the new situation.... all this can't be achieved in a hurry. The Congress knows that passing the Bill is not going to deliver any credit to it in the near future. It is in no hurry."

All eyes are on 19 Dec, when Sonia and Rahul have to appear in court in the National Herald case

All eyes are on Saturday, 19 December, when Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have to appear in court in the National Herald case. The party seems to be in full political campaign mode built around its 'victimisation' and incidents that have embarrassed the government.

Whether business is conducted in the House or not is of no concern to the Congress. Individual aggressiveness has dominated the party's recent political discourse, and that's affecting the House too.

The Congress must realise, though, that it's doing the same thing it blamed the BJP for in the 10 years of the UPA government.

More in Catch - Congress targets Narendra Modi, says government responsible for Parliament's smooth functioning

Gandhis in trouble: how do the arguments stack up in the National Herald case

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First published: 15 December 2015, 12:36 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.