Sonia Gandhi takes charge in House as Congress faces vacuum
The same week, she came to the aid of her colleague Manish Tewari, who was speaking during Zero Hour on US president Donald Trump’s claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited him to mediate on the Kashmir issue.Updated: Jul 31, 2019 00:42 IST
Last week, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi called an emergency meeting of Rajya Sabha members from the Congress and other opposition parties to discuss the floor strategy during the discussion and voting on the Right to Information (amendment) bill.
The same week, she came to the aid of her colleague Manish Tewari, who was speaking during Zero Hour on US president Donald Trump’s claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited him to mediate on the Kashmir issue. She pulled out a sheaf of papers listing details of Trump’s comments (made the previous evening, India time), which Tewari quoted from in the course of his speech.
On July 8, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader TR Baalu led a walkout of his party colleagues over the President rejecting two bills passed by the Tamil Nadu assembly on admitting students to medical college solely on the basis of their Class 12 marks. Baalu was visibly upset with the Congress members for not keeping quiet while he was speaking (they were protesting the then ongoing drama in Karnataka).
The DMK, like most other parties in Tamil Nadu want the state to be outside the purview of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). According to a Congress leader familiar with the matter who asked not to be named, when Gandhi was told that the Congress could not, as a national party, oppose NEET, she said party members from Tamil Nadu should have supported Baalu whose party is an ally of the Congress.
The three anecdotes -- there are many more -- indicate that the ongoing leadership crisis in the Congress has forced Gandhi to step up her own involvement in Parliament.
In the ongoing budget session, Gandhi, 72, has often been seen marshalling her party members in the Lok Sabha, prompting them to raise important issues, even strategising with other opposition parties to put up a united front against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in both the Houses of Parliament. After having handed over the reins of her party to her son Rahul Gandhi in December 2017, Gandhi took a backseat not only in the organisation but also in Parliament though she continued to hold the post of the chairperson of the Congress parliamentary party (CPP) in the 16th Lok Sabha (she also continued to sit in the first row).
She was re-elected CPP chairperson in the 17th Lok Sabha after the Congress recorded its second worst electoral performance in the just-concluded national elections, winning just 52 seats.
Like in 2014, it yet failed to get 10% seats of the total strength (54 out of the total 543 seats) of the Lower House to qualify for the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The party won 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The debacle forced Rahul Gandhi to offer his resignation to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on May 25. Since then, the party hasn’t done much to find his successor, and it actually isn’t clear who will initiate this process. At least in Parliament, Gandhi has stepped in to fill the leadership vacuum.
During the meeting she called with Rajya Sabha members, it was decided that the Congress and other opposition parties would insist on sending the bill to a joint select committee of both the Houses for a thorough scrutiny before it was passed in the Rajya Sabha.That wasn’t to be. The government succeeded in getting the bill passed in the Upper House with the help of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP).
Soon after the Lok Sabha passed the RTI amendment bill last week, Sonia Gandhi issued a statement, saying the Centre was “hell-bent on subverting the law” that now stands on the “brink of extinction.”
The RTI Act was one of her pet projects during the UPA government. As head of the National Advisory Council (NAC), she was actively involved in consultations to draft the RTI bill before being passed by Parliament.
Gandhi also regularly holds the strategy meetings for both the Houses, and asked members to clearly nuance the party’s stand on key bills, including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) amendment bill, National Investigation Agency amendment bill, the Triple Talaq bill, DNA Technology Regulation bill, Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial (amendment) bill and the Protection of Human Rights amendment bill.
“The CPP chairperson reaches the House before the question hour and listens to discussion on all important bills till the end. At times, she even skips lunch, and this forces the other party members, especially the new MPs, to be in the House,” said Manickam Tagore, Virudhunagar MP and Congress whip in the Lok Sabha.
“She wants better coordination among the members to effectively take on the government on people-centric issues,” he added.
New Delhi-based political analyst N Bhaskara Rao said it is good that she is steering the Congress in Parliament. “It is good for the party that she is pro-active. It is also good for the democracy and the country that an opposition leader taking so much interest in Parliament. It is also good for the ruling side because they won’t be accused of stifling the voice of the opposition.” .