A wafer-thin majority and a ‘missing’ minister has the Congress scurrying to ensure the presence of all its members when the Lok Sabha votes on the demands for grants for ministries on April 27 and the Finance Bill three days later.
The opposition of the SP, RJD and BSP to the women’s quota bill had reduced the UPA tally to 274 (excluding the Speaker and Madhu Koda, who is in jail). The numbers depleted by three with the JD(S) joining forces with the Opposition.
Given this, the Congress is trying to boost its strength by reaching out to Independents and unattached members and one-man parties. But to create a comfort zone, it is also trying to work the back channels to see that some Opposition members are absent when the financial business is taken up.
The party has already issued a whip to its members to be in the House. All ministers have been told not to go abroad. It has also urged its allies to ensure the presence of their members.
But the big question here is whether A.K. Alagiri — the Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister, who has avoided attending Parliament or his office — will come? The Congress will have to work on the DMK leadership to ensure he is present on those crucial days.
Opposition members raised a storm over Alagiri’s continued absence in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, to the embarrassment of the treasury benches.
Proceedings were thrown out of a gear for 10 minutes when Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj commented on his “perpetual absence” from the House.
“The current Lok Sabha is completing a year, but members have not seen his face during the period,” Swaraj said. As the AIADMK and JD(U) backed her, she further grilled: “Is it true that Alagiri has not been attending meetings of the Union Cabinet?”
Alagiri is reportedly holidaying in Malaysia. “Has he taken permission of the Speaker to proceed on an overseas visit... when the Budget Session is on?” she asked.
Swaraj raised the issue when Alagiri’s deputy Srikant Jena stood up to reply to a question listed for Alagiri.
Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee stepped in for damage control. “Alagiri is a regular member and normally remains present,” he said, adding that Lok Sabha rules allow junior ministers to reply to questions.