Oppn wants Rafale debate again, vows to stall govt’s bills
The Congress on Wednesday demanded another debate on the Rafale deal in Parliament, with a reply by the Prime Minister, signalling its intent to be aggressive in the last session of the 16th Lok Sabha that starts on Thursday.
At an all-party meeting convened by Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, the Congress’s floor leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge warned the government of strong protests if it tries to bring “a full budget” ahead of the general election and even told Mahajan not to get “angry” if such protests continue.
The budget session of Parliament will run from January 31 to February 13, with just 10 working days for key debates and passage of key bills, including the Triple Talaq and the Citizenship Amendment bills.
Mahajan appealed to all sides to “make the last session memorable”. But the Congress, indicating its zeal to take on the NDA, demanded a fresh debate on the Rafale jet fighter deal, with Modi’s clarifications. When some NDA leaders pointed out that a debate of Rafale had been held in the last session, Kharge said that “new developments have come to light” after that session.
He added that “no one less than the Prime Minister must come to Lok Sabha and reply to our queries”. Modi did not participate in the last Rafale debate.
The government has been hoping to pass a long list of pending bills, including those penalising instant Triple Talaq and allowing non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries to acquire Indian citizenship, but with the Congress hardening its stance, that looks difficult. Some part of the all-too-brief session will also go to discussing the President’s customary address and the business related to the presentation and passage of the interim budget.
The Opposition demanded that the President’s speech to the joint sitting of the two Houses be debated over at least three days and the budget discussion must run for two full days. If this happens, the government will have just three days to pass the long list of pending bills.
The government has clarified, following reports that it will present a sixth budget, that it will in fact present an interim budget. To be sure, as HT has previously pointed out, there have been instances of elaborate interim budgets, including one presented by Pranab Mukherjee of the United Progressive Alliance in 2009. The Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab also cautioned the government not to deviate from the norm of presenting an interim budget in the last session.
At the meeting, parliamentary affairs minister Narendra Singh Tomar even requested Opposition leaders not to insist on long debates, but pass bills that have already cleared the lower house with a short discussion in the upper house. Opposition leaders laughed at the proposal, indicating they are not in a mood to heed the appeal.
While the current draft of the triple talaq bill has faced fierce resistance from opposition parties, the government is also in a fix over the bill to amend the Citizenship Act to allow minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to become Indian citizens. The citizenship bill, too, could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha in the last session in the face of Opposition resistance.
An Opposition leader said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity that if the government did not allow a debate on the Rafale issue, it would face resistance in its attempts to pass any bill.
Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyay and Kharge demanded a debate on the Reserve Bank of India (whose governor Urjit Patel abruptly resigned in December), the controversy at the Central Bureau of Investigation, and the crisis at the National Statistical Commission, whose last two non-official members resigned citing differences with the government. Bandopadhyay also demanded a debate on electronic voting machines that the Oppositions says are vulnerable to tampering.
Some other leader also demanded a debate on the agrarian crisis and unemployment.