Caught off guard in RS, Oppn fails to muster numbers to thwart govt
Opposition parties were caught completely off guard on Monday and struggled to put up an effective front after Union home minister Amit Shah introduced in the House a Constitutional order (which needed to be passed), a statutory resolution, and a bill, that together revoked the special status granted to the state of Jammu & Kashmir and its permanent residents, and also sought to bifurcate the state into two union territories.
The order and the resolution were passed by voice votes and the bill by 125 to 61 in the 239-member house, a two-thirds majority.
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The numbers indicate the disarray in the ranks of the Opposition — the government is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha and the general expectation was that it would start having its way in the Upper House only in late 2020. Instead, it has managed to pass all the bills it wanted to in the House.
Indeed, on Monday, many Opposition parties supported the bill or staged a walkout, helping the government to easily clear the bills and the resolutions.
Senior Opposition leaders met on Monday morning to devise a strategy on the J&K issue, but with little clarity on the government’s possible move, Leader of Opposition in the House, the Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad advised everyone to wait for the announcements. The shock in the Opposition camp was evident when Azad described the government’s move as “dropping an atom bomb” while former union minister P Chidambaram quipped: “We anticipated a a misadventure, but we never thought that they would take a catastrophic step.”
Azad slammed the government for “chopping off the state’s head, considered as India’s crown” and said, “It will be a black spot on India’s history when this legislation is passed as a state is wiped off from India’s map.”
Speaking at length about the history of J&K, Azad warned the government that integration among different communities doesn’t happen through law but through hearts. “It is because of the people of Kashmir that you won all the battles and could fight militancy. But today, you have betrayed the people who always wanted to be a part of India and never went to Pakistan,” he said, underlining that he is talking on behalf of all communities of the state.
Still, the party appeared divided as sidelined Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi later told the media, “My political guru Ram Manohar Lohia ji was always against this Article (370, which gives special status to the state). A mistake of history has been corrected today, albeit late. I welcome this.”
While Azad wondered why the government couldn’t wait for a few more months till the state assembly was re-constituted to do this, the Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien criticized the Centre’s tearing hurry to introduce the bill and apprehended that other states too would be turned into union territories after imposing President’s rule. But Trinamool’s protests were short-lived, though. It staged a walk-out before the voting, effectively helping the government’ agenda.
Earlier, although many Opposition leaders initially rushed to the well of the House soon after the government’s intentions were clear, they decided not to prolong the protests and that participation in the debate would be a more effective way to voice their dissent and take a stand vis-à-vis the reorganization bill and the resolution to effectively scrap Article 370. “Given the mood of chairman Venkaiah Naidu, the House would have anyways continued. We quickly gauged our options and decided to participate in the debate,” said a senior Opposition leader who asked not to be named.
Naidu made it clear that he supported the Opposition’s demand for time to study the bill but that he would not adjourn the house amid protests. “If you don’t go back to your respective seats, I will allow the debate to start now. These are very important legislations and have to be cleared today itself,” Naidu told protesting MPs. He also extended the time for opposition MPs to move amendments.
Simultaneously, two senior ministers of the BJP tried to reach out to parties such as the Congress and the Trinamool Congress for support.
As the Opposition started a quick headcount, the Congress, the Left and the DMK stood firm in opposing the bill while other Opposition parties turned in the other direction. Even the Aam Admi Party, a vocal opponent of the Centre, supported of the bill. chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted. Mayawati’s BSP pledged its support even before the debate on the bill began and BJD and TDP too, stood behind the bill.
At one point, the Congress realised that as many as eight to 10 of the party MPs weren’t in the House. Frantic calls were made to the leaders about the situation. But even then, a few Congress MPs could not come to the House.