Bracing for a heated winter session of Parliament, the BJP is preparing a counter-offensive to attack the Opposition which has planned to corner the government on the issue of growing religious intolerance in the country.
Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu indicated on Thursday that his party could use former UPA ministers Salman Khurshid and Mani Shankar Aiyar’s latest statements targeting the Prime Minister to hit out at the Opposition.
“We do not need to be on the defensive. These comments amount to treason and have turned the tables on the Congress,” Naidu said ahead of the session seen as crucial for the passage of key economic reforms legislation, including the long-awaited constitution amendment bill for the goods and services tax, the real estate bill and changes in labour laws to woo investors.
In the last session, the NDA’s tussle with an aggressive Opposition over the Lalit Modi controversy saw a significant part of the session being washed out. The Rajya Sabha, where the Opposition is in majority, witnessed its lowest performance in 15 years.
Khurshid allegedly compared Modi with Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif at an event in that country recently. Aiyar allegedly said in an interview with a Pakistani news channel that Modi “needs to be removed” if Indo-Pak talks have to resume.
The Congress has already clarified that these are not “party views”, distancing itself from the remarks. But senior BJP minister Najma Heptullah feels these “reckless” statements have provided fresh ammo against the Congress. “If they want to go on the offensive, we know how to tackle the Opposition,” she said on Thursday.
Fresh from the emphatic win of the Grand Alliance against the BJP-led NDA in Bihar, Opposition parties such as the Congress, JD(U), RJD, Left and DMK have so far given no indication of their support to the government’s legislative agenda.
“If the government thinks it can use this buffer period to take the steam off the Opposition, they are wrong,” a senior Congress leader said.
The first two days of the session, November 26 and 27, are earmarked for discussions to commemorate the Constituent Assembly’s acceptance of the Indian Constitution in 1949. But the Opposition plans to use this opportunity to hit out at the government over the violation of citizens’ fundamental rights by citing recent cases of intolerance.
Top government managers told HT the Prime Minister may intervene during the debate, if the need arises, to counter the Opposition charge. Such an intervention, according to BJP strategists, can also defuse the Opposition’s charge that the PM had maintained silence on the issue of intolerance.
The government and the Opposition are also weighing each other’s moves on pending bills on SC/ST welfare. NDA strategists think if they bring forward the SC/ST bills, the Opposition can’t disrupt the House to stop such socially sensitive legislation.
Pre-empting any government move, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury went a step ahead and demanded: “These bills should be brought during the first two days to pay a befitting tribute to BR Ambedkar. A discussion over the Constitution must end with concrete steps.”
The government is also banking on the fractured nature of the Opposition to prevent disruptions of the House. Parties such as the Trinamool Congress, BJD and AIADMK are not on the same page as the other Opposition constituents on disrupting the House.