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Government has vitiated political atmosphere, Modi an autocrat: Jairam Ramesh

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By Prashant Sood

New Delhi: The country’s political atmosphere has been vitiated by the “confrontationist attitude” of the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an “autocrat” who is not making efforts to reach out to the opposition, Congress leader and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh has said.

jairam_ramesh_bigRamesh also slammed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for his remarks about “indirectly elected” Rajya Sabha holding up reform proposals passed by the “directly-elected” Lok Sabha.

Asked about the perception that relations between the government and the main opposition party were marked by bitterness, Ramesh said that Modi was not making any attempt at reaching out.

“Mr. Modi is not making any attempt at reaching out. It is not in his nature. It is not in his DNA. There is no communication. His whole approach is confrontationist. His rhetoric is confrontationist. His body language is confrontationist. It does not seem to me he is interested in working with people,” Ramesh told IANS in an interview.

“He has not reached out to his own ministers, forget the Congress party. He is autocrat to the core,” the Congress leader added.

The three-week-long monsoon session of parliament that concluded Aug 13 was washed out due to the stalemate over the Congress demand for the resignation of three BJP leaders. It was also marked by personal attacks and acrimony between the leaders of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Within and outside parliament, the Congress pressed for the resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje for their alleged help to former IPL chief Lalit Modi who is facing an Enforcement Directorate probe.

The party also sought the resignation of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for the Vyapam scam.

Asked if the party was sticking to its demand for the resignation of the three BJP leaders, Ramesh asserted: “Yes. Absolutely.”

Ramesh, a former rural development minister and a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha, said the government has to take the initiative to break the logjam in parliament.

“It is not the job of opposition to create a consensus. It is the job of the government to reach out. It is the job of the opposition to meet half way. He (Modi) has to play (a more proactive role). We all know this is a Modi-driven government. The PM is the fount of all accountability,” Ramesh said.

Asked about Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar’s remarks that the political bitterness was at its worst since the 1975-77 emergency, Ramesh said: “The political atmosphere has been vitiated because of the government’s confrontationist attitude.”

Asked about the government mulling a special session of parliament to get the Goods and Services Tax Bill passed, Ramesh said he had no idea of the government’s plans.

“We have made our stand very clear on GST. We want an 18 percent ceiling, compensation for panchayats and nagar palikas, a dispute settlement mechanism and one percent additional tax to go. The government should consider our suggestions,” Ramesh said.

The GST bill is pending in the Rajya Sabha where the government lacks a majority. The Congress is the single largest party in the upper house with 68 MPs.

Asked if the Congress will allow the Rajya Sabha to function, Ramesh said the question should be put to the party’s floor managers.

Ramesh, who worked closely with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on the previous UPA government’s Land Act, slammed Jaitley for his remarks that the time had come for a debate on to what extent an “indirectly elected” house can hold up reform proposals passed by the “directly-elected” Lok Sabha which represents the will of the people.

“I don’t understand where he gets this strange theory from. The constitution of India makes no distinction between the two except insofar as money bills are concerned,” Ramesh said.

“In the constituent assembly debates, people saw the need for an upper house. Just because they don’t have majority in the upper house does not mean you run down the upper house. Both houses are equally important and have a role to perform,” Ramesh said.

(IANS)

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Come April, government will be more comfortable in Rajya Sabha

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs

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Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
  • In April, the opposition may lose its edge over BJP in Rajya Sabha
  • NDA led by Modi has faced many embarrassments in Rajya Sabha in past few years
  • This is expected to change soon

Come April, the opposition in the Rajya Sabha may lose its edge in the numbers game and the power to stall any government bill, as the ruling BJP-led NDA coalition is set to catch up with its rivals, though a clear majority will elude them for a while more.

BJP to soon get more comfortable in  Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia commons
BJP to soon get more comfortable in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

As 58 MPs, including three Nominated and one Independent, are set to retire in April, the Rajya Sabha math is going to change. It is set to favour the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the trend may continue in the elections to the Upper House later too with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having solid majorities in a number of state assemblies, especially the ones it won after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

With this, while the Congress-led opposition’s numbers will come down to around 115 from the present 123, the numbers of the BJP, its allies and sympathisers together would climb to around 109 from the present 100-odd members.

And the gap, once wide enough to let the opposition invariably have its say, will keep narrowing further in the coming months.

Of the 55 retiring members (excluding those Nominated), 30 belong to the opposition camp while 24 belong to the BJP and allies. Of them, a large number of NDA candidates are set to return while the opposition will lose a chunk of its members.

As things stand now, the Congress-led opposition has 123 MPs (including 54 of the Congress) in a house of 233 elected members (apart from 12 Nominated), while the NDA has 83 members (including 58 of BJP) plus four Independents who support the BJP (these include MPs Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Subhash Chandra, Sanjay Dattatraya Kakade and Amar Singh).

Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.
Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.

Also, for all practical purposes, the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), that has 13 members in the Rajya Sabha, is also with the NDA. This means the NDA’s effective strength in the upper house of Parliament is 100.

The gap was wider till just a few months ago. This meant that during any battle between the government and the opposition in the Upper House over bills and major issues, it was the opposition that invariably had its way. The recent example was the triple talaq legislation that the opposition stalled in the upper house, demanding that it be referred to a Select Committee.

For over less than four years, the Narendra Modi government had faced quite a few embarrassments in the Rajya Sabha thanks to the majority of the opposition, forcing it often to take the money bill route to avoid a clash in the house. Under the Constitution, a money bill needs to be passed only in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha cannot stall it.

Also Read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

However, after April, the NDA will be in a far better position.

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs (including AIADMK). But at least 30 from the NDA are set to get re-elected. So the number will rise to 106. Add three members that the government would nominate to the upper house and the final NDA tally will roughly be 109 MPs.

Further, there are fence-sitters such as the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the YSR Congress, which are not virulently against the BJP and would not oppose the government unless for very compelling reasons.

Now, for the Congress and the rest of the opposition, they are set to lose 30 MPs (including one Independent, A.V. Swamy) through retirement and would be left with around 93 members. The Opposition may win roughly 22 seats, which means that its final tally after April is likely to be around 115 members.

Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.
Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.

The gap has clearly narrowed and the government may not be at the mercy of the opposition during crucial votes and can have its way in the Rajya Sabha if it musters its numbers by deftly wooing “floater” MPs.

The three newly-elected Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members may remain equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress, though the party is friendly with some of the major opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress.

Also Read: BJP MP Seeks Amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill

In an interesting development recently, the AAP actively participated in the opposition’s walkout and the day-long boycott of the Rajya Sabha over long intra-day adjournments of the Upper House by Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The AAP, which was not welcome at any opposition meetings earlier, particularly those held in Parliament House, was invited to speak at a joint opposition media interaction on the day. But nobody can be sure as to how long this bonding would last.

Partywise tally of those retiring in April-May from the opposition’s side include 13 from the Congress, six from the Samajwadi Party, three of the Trinamool Congress, two each of the Nationalist Congress Party and Biju Janata Dal and one each of the CPI-M, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons
NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

From the ruling side, 17 MPs of the BJP, three of the Janata Dal United, one of the Shiv Sena and two of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are retiring.

In terms of state-wise vacancies to be created in April, the highest number is from Uttar Prdaesh (9), followed by Maharashtra (6), Madhya Pradesh (5), Bihar (5), Gujarat (4), Karnataka (4), West Bengal (4), Rajasthan (3), Odisha (3), Andhra Pradesh (3), Telangana (2), Uttarakhand (1), Himachal Pradesh (1) and Chhattisgarh (1). IANS