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House back in order

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had to cut through layers of objections to defuse the impasse in Parliament over the price rise issue, Shekhar Iyer writes.

delhi Updated: Aug 03, 2010 23:58 IST
Shekhar Iyer

"Let's have breakfast, at last we have agreed," said a smiling Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as he wrapped up his meeting with Opposition leaders on Monday to signal the end of a weeklong deadlock in Parliament on the issue of inflation.

As they munched on idlis, the "agreement" that Mukherjee reached with Opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav Gurudas Dasgupta, Basudeb Acharya and A B Bardhan, did not seem a bad idea.

It was a face saver. The government and the opposition agreed on a resolution that would be read out from the Chair (of the two Houses) to convey the "sense" of the Opposition's anguish and the government's response on price rise after everyone had her/his say.

Both sides needed a way out of the impasse with a face-saver. Finally, it was left to the ingenuity of Mukherjee, Leader of the Lok Sabha, to find one.

The government's heavy agenda of 35 pieces of legislation during the 33-day session weighed heavily on Mukherjee's shoulders. On the other side, L K Advani, BJP parliamentary party chief, told his party colleagues that they could not continue to disrupt Parliament indefinitely.

"A way must be found to end it," he said.

Mukherjee got in touch with Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, over the weekend. He proposed the issue be taken up under Rule 342, which allows the Chair to express the feelings or sense of the House on any public issue. But Opposition leaders found his draft resolution too soft on the government.

Then the semantics of the resolution took over. Mukherjee and other ministers wanted the House statement, to be read out by the Chair, to use an expression such as "inflationary pressure" for "increase in prices" and avoid making any reference to the "adverse impact" on the aam admi, the Congress's plank.

In Monday's meeting, Mukherjee and the Opposition leaders arrived at a mutually acceptable resolution: "The House expressed concern over inflation and calls upon the Government to take further action to contain its adverse impact on the common people."