The monsoon session of Parliament beginning Tuesday is set to be stormy as the opposition will target the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over a string corruption allegations against some of its most high-profile ministers and leaders.
The Congress is in no mood to cooperate and has mounted pressure on the government to remove external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje – both linked to a controversy over former IPL chief Lalit Modi’s efforts to obtain British travel documents – and chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, whose government in Madhya Pradesh is on the back foot because of the raging Vyapam scam.
The Congress' message to the government has been “remove them, and we ensure a smooth session”. The Congress has also targeted Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh and Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde over alleged scams. The opposition has indicated it will also target human resource minister Smriti Irani, who is facing charges related to her educational qualifications.
But the BJP too is adamant about brazening it out. "We will aggressively and effectively counter the disinformation campaign of Congress," said party media cell in-charge Shrikant Sharma.
And it seems the BJP-led government and the Congress as well as other opposition parties are headed for a 'muqabla' (contest) as pointed out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So, what's expected in the upcoming session? Will it be a complete washout? Or will the government be able to weather the storm? Here's all you need to know about who stands where ahead of the key session.
The government has indicated that it is taking the opposition’s challenge seriously, holding or planning a series of meetings. Modi held a nearly two-and-a-half-hour meeting with BJP leaders and ministers at his official residence on Sunday evening.
Earlier in the day, BJP chief Amit Shah held strategy meetings with party colleagues, including Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Smriti Irani, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Piyush Goyal and party spokespersons. He also met Raje and Chouhan.
Modi has called a meeting of all NDA constituents on Monday. This is the first time he has called a meet of the ruling alliance since he stormed to power in May 2014.
Before meeting the allies at his residence, Modi may attend two separate all-party meetings called by parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to discuss ways to ensure a smooth session.
"As far as the Lalit Modi controversy is concerned, Congress is totally confused. On one hand, they are seeking resignation of our leaders on the basis of Lalit Modi's comments, but have no answer to his charges against Priyanka Gandhi, her husband Robert Vadra and an alleged deal by Sonia Gandhi's sister. We will seek their answers on these," said BJP leader Shrikant Sharma.
The BJP believes there was no wrongdoing on the part of Raje or her son Dushyant Singh in dealings with Lalit Modi.
A BJP leader said the party has also decided to highlight how the judiciary has refused to take cognisance of Congress leader Digvijaya Singh's attempts to link chief minister Chouhan to the Vyapam scam, which is now being investigated by the CBI.
The BJP, on its part, is likely to train its guns on Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, a senior Congress leader who has been accused of having assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.
What about key bills?
As part of its strategy, the government has lined up a short but impressive list of 11 bills for Parliament’s approval. Topping the list is the long-awaited 122nd Constitution Amendment Bill that aims to pave the way for the Goods and Services Tax or GST.
Barring the Congress, the principal opposition party, the GST bill has got overwhelming support from other political quarters. Arch-rivals Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s BSP, Shiv Sena and NCP, Left and Trinamool — all have said the same thing: Bring on the GST!
While the BJP-led NDA commands an absolute majority in Lok Sabha, it lacks numbers in the Upper House where the Congress is the largest party and holds key to the passage of crucial legislation, including the GST and land acquisition bill.
The initial days of the session could be lost in the din of protests as there is little chance of Modi giving in to the demands of the Congress.
The fate of the bills, therefore, will depend on the last week of the session when the Congress will be under intense pressure to stop disruptions in Parliament.
The BJP’s decision not to proceed with the land acquisition bill is a clear indication that it doesn’t want to take on the entire opposition. It is going slow on contentious labour reforms. With some other opposition parties not ready to join hands with the Congress, the NDA’s best chance to pass the bills can come in the last week.
If the GST bill is the government’s top priority, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill to treat teenagers in the 16-18 years bracket as adults if they commit a heinous crime is also high on the agenda.
In a nutshell: No chance of all bills getting passed. The government should be happy if it can pass the GST bill, though. There are also reports that the government could sacrifice the land bill for the smooth passage of GST.
All eyes on Congress
The Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said on Sunday the running of Parliament and the passage of important bills during the monsoon session will be "more easy" if the BJP takes action against its controversy-hit leaders.
"...it is the work of the government to respect the demand of the opposition, take them into confidence and fulfil their demands. It is 100% in the hands of the government and the Prime Minister has to decide whether Parliament will run or not," Azad said, indicating the Congress will not let go of any opportunity to pin down the BJP.