Barring the vice-presidential poll on the opening day of Parliament’s monsoon session, 10 August, the Congress-led ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is unlikely to be able to team up successfully on other issues with its outside supporters among the Left parties.
That’s because of a rare meeting of minds at the two ends of the political spectrum, much to the discomfiture of the ruling alliance.
“They (Left parties) might still find some Hegelian dialectic to support the Indo-US nuclear agreement,” Yashwant Sinha, a vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, had joked while announcing his party’s opposition to the civil nuclear agreement.
Three days later, though, Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) announced the four-party Left Front’s even more
strident opposition to the nuclear deal.
Showing displeasure: File picture of CPM general secretary Prakash Karat. He said the government will have to take into account the unhappiness of all non-UPA parties over the 123 Agreement.
Like the BJP and the eight-party third front, officially the United National Progressive Alliance, the Left Front demanded a debate in Parliament, thereby isolating the government.
The government responded, on Wednesday, by saying that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will make a statement in Parliament on 13 August.
The BJP had, however, given a notice for discussion under Rule 184, which entails voting. V.K. Malhotra, the party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, warned of disruptions in the House in case the demand is not met.
All of which points to another contentious session of Parliament.
According to PRS Legislative Research, a non-partisan organization that tracks Parliament, during the previous session, thanks to frequent disruptions, Lok Sabha worked for 51% of the allotted time, while in the Rajya Sabha it was 43%. As a result, as many as 23 of the Bills listed for introduction, or for consideration and passing, could not be taken up.
“The nuclear deal is bound to have a massive echo in Parliament, simply because it is going to have huge implications for India,” said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.
“How this plays out in the House will depend a lot on procedures and the role of the Speaker,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank.
The nuclear agreement needs to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, before it goes to the US Congress. It does not require a ratification by the Indian Parliament. That’s what the non-UPA parties are now protesting against. They now demand that the Constitution be amended to make it mandatory that all international treaties be ratified by Parliament.
“The government will have to take into account the unhappiness of all non-UPA parties over the 123 agreement,” said the CPM’s Karat.
Rangarajan said though the CPM’s tirade against the Congress party had gone down ever since it became embroiled in its own problems in West Bengal and Kerala, the Congress seems to have frittered away its gains at the Centre.
“I can’t see any clear political direction or bounce back, despite the gains in the presidential poll,” said Rangarajan, referring to the united front presented by the UPA and the Left parties, which enabled the election of Pratibha Patil as the President.
Neither the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance nor the UNPA managed to keep their flock together, making Patil’s margin of victory wider than her immediate support group could have ensured.
Abhishek Singhvi, a spokesperson of the Congress party, admitted, “This is going to be a short session. There won’t be enough time to generate fresh consensuses. Therefore, this session will mainly deal with the pending business (of the previous sessions).”
However, the government may find it tough to push through even pending legislations, evident from the parliamentary affairs ministry’s wishlist of 25 Bills for introduction and 25 Bills for consideration. The list does not contain, for instance, the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations, Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercialization) Bill, 2007, which has drawn the ire of the Left.
Besides opposition to certain Bills likely to be introduced or discussed during the session, the BJP has given notices to discuss the government’s policy on special economic zones, the state of debt-ridden farmers and the multi-crore land scam in Delhi.
The Left parties are yet to finalize their stand, but they are expected to raise concern over the joint naval exercises with the US next month, the government’s economic policy and the police firing against Left activists in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh.
The Congress and Left parties are also embroiled in a row over the proposed legislations to provide social security to workers in the unorganized sector. Despite labour minister Oscar Fernandes’ assurance that the government will table the Bill for unorganized sector workers in the upcoming session, Brinda Karat, a Rajya Sabha member of the CPM, said there was no way the Left could accept the legislation without provisions for guaranteed social security.
“The sense of drift in the government and its relations with the Left parties is quite unmistakable,” said political analyst Rangarajan.