Monsoon Session of Parliament Tough Road For UPA
The UPA will face the monsoon session of Parliament which kicked off on Wednesday on a high, having proved that when it comes to numbers and the management of numbers it can beat its opponents hollow but despite the numbers the Congress-led UPA has no leadership to speak of which is why it continues to face problems in terms of governance and taking key policy decisions.
This will be more accurately reflected in the monsoon session of Parliament. The twin elections of the President and Vice President have shown the UPA to be intact. None of its partners have broken rank and have stood by the Congress. In addition, the Congress has brought on board warring UP parties like the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. It has succeeded in creating fissures in the NDA with Nitish Kumar and Bal Thackeray supporting Pranab Mukherjee even as the BJD and TDP—earlier allies of the BJP—have refrained from voting for the NDA candidate and have instead decided to abstain.
Having bagged both the President and the Vice President with huge margins, the Congress begins the session with a meeting of the newly set up co-ordination committee to be chaired by Sonia Gandhi. The session also begins with the senior BJP leader LK Advani having put the BJP on the back foot by announcing to the world that it is unlikely that the next general election will throw up a BJP prime minister. This has set the cat amongst the pigeons with rattled leaders upset at Advani for bringing down the morale of the party at this crucial juncture.
The monsoon session also began with the normally quiet and reticent Sonia Gandhi turning aggressive in taking on the senior BJP leader LK Advani over his remarks that the UPA government was illegitimate. She insisted that Advani must withdraw his words and egged on her partymen to rise and oppose the BJP and its leadership. It was a new facet of Sonia Gandhi which most people had not seen before as she gestured and shouted in the din and did not stop till Advani withdrew his words.
Before that in the morning she arrived early in the house and prevented the Congress Telangana MPs from storming into the well of the house saying that she could not allow such frequent disruptions by them to take place and that they were not to protest or create a disturbance in the house. Political Leaders saw her in the role of Leader of the House with many of them appreciating and commenting on her confidence and aggression in taking on the BJP in the opposition benches.
But despite all this, the BJP was ready to take on the Congress with the opposition party bringing in an adjournment motion on the Assam violence and clashes and the large number of people who have been killed. Assam has a Congress government and the government in Parliament had to face a great deal of criticism on the manner in which violence still continues in the state.
The ruling Congress will miss Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee who had been its chief trouble shooter for the last eight years in the Lok Sabha. Sitting in his place is Sushil Kumar Shinde who has an affable manner but is neither known for his articulation nor for his erudition. When Sonia Gandhi took on Advani, Shinde stood up and asked Advani to withdraw his words. Later he made a short and almost technical reply to the adjournment motion which was hesitant and rather nervous.
But Shinde is Sonia Gandhi’s choice for the twin jobs of Home Minister of India and Leader of the Lok Sabha. He is a loyalist who does not speak out of turn and is flexible to the degree required. He is a dalit from Maharashtra and Sonia Gandhi is known to place a great deal of store on such symbolism, in the hope that showcasing a dalit as the Leader of the House would help the party win dalit votes.
In the Rajya Sabha, the newly elected Vice President Hamid Ansari whose term ends on August 10 will take oath on August 11 at Rashtrapati Bhawan and return to the Rajya Sabha as Chairman on Monday, while the Congress MP from Kerala PJ Kurian is expected to be the new Vice Chairman of the upper house instead of Rehman Khan. So with the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, Dr Manmohan Singh a Sikh, the Chairman a Muslim, the Deputy Chairman a Christian and the Lok Sabha leader a dalit, most of the important castes and religions have been covered by the Congress party.
Apart from this the Opposition is planning to put the new Finance Minister P Chidambaram on the mat by raising the spectrum issue where they had earlier targeted him for his involvement in the 2G scam, rising prices, the economy, drought, the coal block allocation scam, the controversial Aircel-Maxis deal, the power grid collapse and a host of other issues.
Both the Left and the Right have said they are against FDI in retail and with Mamata Banerjee and others also opposing it, the government would find the going tough on FDI in retail which it says it is determined to bring as the pressure from the United States is increasing on the Prime Minister to speed up FDI. The BJP says it wants a clear explanation from the government on its policy on the matter.
The government has listed 31 bills for the session which includes those on forward contracts, banking laws, whistle blowers, prevention of bribery of foreign public officials bill etc. It is unlikely that the Lokpal Bill will be brought since Satyavrat Chaturvedi, the Chairman of the Select Committee, said it will only be presented to the house on the first day of the last week of the monsoon session. With Team Anna having ended their fast, it looks unlikely that the government is in any hurry to bring it up.
The question being asked is how far the government can carry the advantage it gained in the President and Vice President elections and whether it will be able to convert this confidence into good governance, taking major policy initiatives which had been lacking in UPA II. Sources say that with the Prime Minister not being his own master and the Congress party putting road blocks in his way over key reform initiatives, the governance component of the UPA has continued to weaken simply because the leadership is seen to be weak and politically unassuming.
By Renu Mittal