Ruling BJP lawmakers stalled a debate on demonetisation in Parliament on Thursday, setting up what could be the least productive legislative session in six years.
With one more day to go before it closes, the month-long winter session has been a virtual washout as opposition parties and the government clashed primarily over the recall of 500- and 1,000-rupee banknotes.
The BJP and its allies blocked the Opposition’s offer in the Lok Sabha for an unconditional debate on the demonetisation drive. Parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar opted, instead, to rake up the AgustaWestland helicopter scam that was discussed threadbare in Parliament two sessions ago — and not heard of since.
“Never in the history of the Lok Sabha, the parliamentary affairs ministers has led his party to create ruckus,” CPI(M) leader Mohammed Salim said.
- The month-long winter session has been a virtual washout
- The Opposition and the government clashed primarily over demonetisation
- The Lok Sabha, where the NDA enjoys a majority, has managed to pass two bills this session
- The Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in a minority, has passed a single legislation
Minister Kumar demanded a discussion on the controversial helicopter deal, saying the “UPA government’s first family” was mentioned by a middleman in the scandal.
Former defence minister AK Antony later said Congress president Sonia Gandhi had no role in it as VVIP helicopters were meant for the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister.
In the Rajya Sabha, that assembled after a four-day gap, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad stood up to speak about farmers facing difficulties because of the cash crunch. But NDA parliamentarians, led by junior parliamentary affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, shouted him down.
“This is the first time in the history of India after Independence that it is the ruling party that does not allow the House to work,” Azad said.
Ruling lawmakers disrupted the Lok Sabha last Thursday and Friday when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi wanted to speak on the government’s decision to scrap the two high-value notes.
The repeated disruptions have frustrated even BJP veteran LK Advani, who said he felt like resigning.
Gandhi thanked the BJP veteran in a tweet, “for fighting for democratic values within your party”.
The Congress leader has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of corruption and alleged that the government was not allowing him to speak in Parliament because he is “terrified”.
“I want to reveal in Lok Sabha … PM is afraid that if he lets me speak then his balloon will burst,” Gandhi said.
The belligerent Opposition wants Modi to speak in the House on demonetisation, a surprise move that has left millions of people lining up at banks and ATM kiosks for more than a month.
For his part, the Prime Minister has accused the Opposition of not allowing him to speak in the House.
Opposition parties have decided to meet President Pranab Mukherjee — the second time this session —to “share their views” on demonetisation. Gandhi will be part of the delegation.
The confrontation overshadowed Parliament’s legislative business, including key social and financial reforms bills.
The Lok Sabha, where the NDA enjoys a brute majority with more than 330 parliamentarians, has managed to pass two bills this session, which ends Friday. The Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in a minority, passed a single legislation.
The Lower House has been able to use 15% of the allotted time, against the Rajya Sabha’s 19%. This is a sharp fall from the previous session in which the two Houses spent 101% and 96% of their time.
This could go down in history as the worst session since 2010. There is little possibility of Parliament conducting any legislative business on Friday, the last day of the session.
In the 2010 session, the BJP-led Opposition stalled proceedings to demand a joint parliamentary panel on the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
Three years later, the BJP again led repeated disruptions over alleged scams in coal block allocation.