An aggressive Opposition took on the government over the Constitution and the legacy of its framer BR Ambedkar on the first day of the winter session on Thursday, setting the stage for a stormy month of Parliament with a slew of reform bills in the pipeline.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the basic ideals of the Constitution were in danger and the happenings of the past few months were against its values, a reference to the swirling debate on intolerance in the country, stoked by controversial statements by BJP leaders.
“Those who have no respect for the Constitution and have no role in the making of the Constitution are claiming to be keeping the Constitution,” the Rae Bareli MP said, a possible reference to the BJP that has been accused by the Congress of attempting to usurp Ambedkar’s legacy.
The session began on a heated note, with home minister Rajnath Singh saying the word ‘secular’ was the most misused word in Indian politics.
He went on to say that Ambedkar didn’t find it necessary to insert the word along with ‘socialist’ in the Preamble because he felt it was already in the basic nature of people.
“We know how many problems he (Ambedkar) faced, he must have been hurt, yet (kept) his emotions in control… But he never said I have faced discrimination in India, so I will go somewhere else,” Singh said, hitting out at actor Aamir Khan who revealed this week that his family contemplated moving abroad due to rising intolerance.
But Gandhi rejected Singh’s charge, saying the Constitution undeniably upheld secularism and that Ambedkar worked to give a voice to people discriminated by society.
“The Constitution is closely linked to the history of Congress party. It is the Congress that brought Dr Ambedkar into the Constituent Assembly,” she said, amid uproar by BJP parliamentarians.
“Indian Constitution is a result of decades of struggle. Mahatma Gandhiji made a huge contribution in this struggle.”
The heated argument came at a two-day long special sitting of Parliament to discuss commitment to the Constitution as part of Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary celebrations. The Rajya Sabha was adjourned on Thursday after an obituary reference to sitting member Khekiho Zhimomi who died on Thursday morning.
The session, which ends on December 23, is expected to see fireworks with the government determined to push through its reform agenda, including the landmark goods and services tax bill. After intense negotiations, it has agreed to reach out to the Opposition and agreed to a debate on intolerance as part of its attempts to avoid a repeat of the monsoon session washout.
Hours before Parliament opened, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government was ready for debates but all parties must work for the nation.
“I’m confident we all MPs will leave no stone unturned to match the expectations of the people of the nation. I have spoken to all the political parties and all want the House to run smoothly,” the PM said, speaking to reporters outside Parliament.
Buoyed by its massive victory in the Bihar polls, the Congress-led Opposition is attempting to corner the government on a range of issues, including price rise, Mohammad Ikhlaq’s mob lynching over cow slaughter remarks and the killing of Dalit children in Faridabad.