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Sonia prescribes: here's how Congress plans to take on Modi sarkaar in Parliament

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

Monsoon Session so far:

  • First two days of Monsoon Session have been relatively peaceful
  • Kashmir was debated on day one of the session

What\'s to follow?

  • The Arunachal discussion came up in the Lower House
  • Congress was however taunted by Rajnath Singh during the discussions
  • Congress staged a walk-out after his comments

More in the story:

  • What else the Congress has planned for the rest of the session
  • How it plans to take on the BJP in Pariament

The Monsoon Session of Parliament started off relatively calm, but it is unlikely to remain the same in the days to come.Fireworks are expected as this session progresses.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi has exhorted party MPs to be aggressive in cornering the Modi government.

"We may be lacking in numbers, but we will make it up with our work and we will continue to demand accountability through Parliament. I count upon each of you to be present, to be active, to be aggressive and hold the government and the ministers to their words and action," said Sonia Gandhi while addressing the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) on Wednesday.

The party has been holding meetings with all its MPs to lay down the strategies to attack the government on contentious issues.

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi also met Parliamentarians Monday ahead of the session and apprised them of issues that are likely to go up for discussion.

In her speech, Sonia Gandhi categorically spelt out the issues to be taken up by the party on the floor of the house to launch an offensive against the BJP government.

Battle plan

"We have witnessed how the Modi government's project of destabilising institutions and polarising our society has played out with renewed vigour to the detriment of constitutional values. The Modi government has mistaken its parliamentary majority for a licence to impose its narrow ideology on our people," she said.

Speaking on Arunachal and Uttarakhand, the Congress president singled out the prime minister and accused him of "trampling upon" the Constitution and pointed out how an "independent and fearless" judiciary reminded him of constitutional norms and values.

Asking party MPs to not be complacent, she pointed that similar tactics are being planned for other Congress-ruled states.

She added that Kashmir, India's foreign policy, drastic cut in the budget of Panchayati Raj Ministry, drought, unemployment in organised and unorganised sectors, price rice, 7th Pay Commission, GDP figures, FDI, NPAs, GSPC scam, are some of the issues on which the Congress will confront the Modi government.

Joining forces

Moreover, the party leadership is constantly holding meetings with leaders of other "like-minded parties" to ensure the Opposition speaks in a unified voice against the government in the Parliament.

So much so that the government sensed trouble and withdrew the Enemy Property Bill after objections were raised by the Opposition during the Business Advisory Committee of the Rajya Sabha.

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma categorically spelt out the issues for which the party is likely to ask for a debate in both the houses, especially in Rajya Sabha where the Opposition holds a numerical advantage over the government.

The former Union minister added that India's foreign policy, Goods and Service Tax (GST) Bill, Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill, unemployment in organised and unorganised sectors and price rice are some of the issues on which Congress seeks a debate.

"We have given a notice on price rise, especially in pulses and other food items, and that has been accepted by the business advisory committee," Sharma said.

Fighting it out

On the second day of the Monsoon Session, the Congress did try and initiate a debate on the central government's attempts to destabilise non-BJP state governments.

Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, brought an adjournment notice on the Arunachal crisis where the Supreme Court restored the Congress government in a historic verdict.

However, lack of numbers and not enough support from regional parties forced it to surrender to the government.

Instead, Union Minister Rajnath Singh taunted the Congress for being in the habit of destabilising governments.

The party staged a walk out after the home minister's comments, but that made no difference in the proceedings of the house.

Now, Congress' only hope of engaging in a serious debate on the issue could only materialise in the Rajya Sabha.

Backed by prolific speakers, the Congress is eying a showdown in the Upper House where it sees the potential of isolating the government on these issues.

Changing game plan

Before the beginning of the Monsoon Session, the government had hinted at isolating the Congress in the Rajya Sabha over the contentious GST Bill which has been stuck in the Upper House.

However, it changed its stand and reached out to Congress to end the stalemate.

Leaders from both the parties have met on multiple occasions and discussions are still on over the fate of the GST Bill.

The government hinted at a compromise, but the Congress insisted that the demands it put forth be accommodated in the Bill for it to be passed.

The Congress has been insisting on three demands:

- 18% cap on the GST rate

- Deletion of the provision of 1% tax by additional levy

- An independent dispute resolution mechanism

While the Centre has agreed to two of its demands, it has consistently opposed the 18% ceiling.

On GST, Sharma said there has to be a cap and any tinkering with GST rate will not be left to the executive or the government of the day.

"That is why we have said it has to be firmly ring-fenced. We hope the government has registered the very legitimate demand made by the Congress Party which has rich merit. Equally important is the issue of 1 % additional tax."

More on the table

Among other issues, India's failed bid at the Nuclear Supplier's Group (NSG) is most certainly to be an important feature of Congress' game plan.

Taking jibes at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress said he had been constantly visiting foreign countries to build relations with them and the Opposition will be seeking answers from him on the outcome of these visits.

Referring to a statement by Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj wherein she stated that India is not opposed to Pakistan's bid for NSG, Sharma said putting India on equal footing with Pakistan is "condemnable" and a matter of "national shame".

"This will certainly be raised in the Parliament," Sharma said.

Attacking the government on not consulting opposition parties on matters of foreign policy, Congress sought answers on what transpired during the PM's visit to foreign countries like Pakistan and the United States

They also demanded to know the reasons behind India's failed bid at the NSG.

More debates

Among other bills, a discussion on the Compensatory Afforestation Act is likely to see tempers flare up in the upper house since Congress is not satisfied with the draft bill.

While the government is not ready to relent, the biggest opposition party has advised the government to take up the bill only after the Congress' concerns have been "fully addressed"and amended accordingly.

"All these issues will be coming up for discussion and we will surely be supporting those bills which on merit deserve our support. Those bills where consensus has not been reached will not have the support of the opposition party unless until the government gets total consensus," Sharma said.

Clearly, these are signs that this Monsoon Session will be stormy. One hopes, however, that it doesn't turn out to be a wash-out.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

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First published: 20 July 2016, 2:16 IST