Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to demand a farm loan waiver— the first since the Congress vice-president accused him of “personal corruption” — split the Opposition as the winter session of Parliament came to a close on Friday.
The Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Left, the DMK and the Nationalist Congress Party didn’t join the Congress-led delegation that met President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday to submit a memorandum, accusing the government of not allowing them to discuss its decision to recall 500 and 1,000 rupee notes in Parliament.
The Congress, along with 15 opposition parties, stalled proceedings in Parliament for most of the month-long session, demanding that the PM be present during the debate on demonetisation and reply to it. In the Lok Sabha, they wanted the debate under rules that entail voting, only to relent last week. The Trinamool Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal (United), and the All India United Democratic Front were part of the delegation that went to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Sources said a number of opposition parties decided to drop out at the last moment as they were not happy with Rahul Gandhi’s “unilateral decision” to meet the PM when they had stood with the Congress in stalling proceedings in Parliament. “You cannot stall Parliament for a month demanding the PM’s presence and then go to meet the PM even before it is adjourned sine die. You didn’t find it proper to consult us,” said an NCP leader.
Congress leaders, however, claimed that the party was campaigning in UP, Punjab and other states over farm loan waiver and so there was nothing wrong in going to the PM with this demand.
For the record, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said, “From day 1, we have been against going to the President but for the sake of opposition unity, we didn’t oppose. We want to go to the people. The President cannot help much in this issue.” Samajwadi Party’s Kiranmay Nanda offered a similar explanation, saying that his party would take it to the people in UP elections.
“Milna julna bana rahna chahiye (let’s keep meeting),” said Modi to senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad when the delegation got up to leave after the meeting. “Dil nahin to haath to milayenge (we will shake hands even if there is no meeting of hearts),” reposted Azad’s colleague Mallikarjun Kharge.
They presented a memorandum to Modi on demands of farmers, including loan waiver, halving power bills and remunerative minimum support price for farm produce.
“Farmers are committing suicide all over the country… The government has removed the import duty on wheat. This is a devastating blow. So we went to the prime minister to request him on behalf of farmers of this country to waive their loans,” said Rahul Gandhi. He said that the PM conceded that the situation was serious but did not say anything on the loan waiver.
The principal opposition party accused the government of breaking all morals of democracy. “The government is entirely responsible for this. We presented a memorandum to the President of India. We told the President that we wanted a discussion on demonetisation in Parliament on the problems faced by farmers, small traders etc., but the government did not allow,” Kharge said as the Congress-led delegation emerged out of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Although there were fissures in the opposition camp on Friday, sources said that efforts were on to forge opposition unity in taking the demonetisation issue to the people by holding joint dharnas and demonstrations.