New Delhi: Both houses of Parliament were adjourned on Thursday with no business transacted for the third straight day after some parties allied to the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government joined the opposition in demanding a debate on spiralling food prices—a crucial issue for political parties ahead of key upcoming state elections, analysts say.
Trouble began soon after the Lok Sabha convened with lawmakers of the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP)—which extend issue-based support to the UPA government—raising slogans against the spike in food prices alongside members of the opposition Left parties.
“Ahead of the upcoming state elections, rising food prices have become a high stakes issue for all parties,” said political analyst B.G. Verghese with the Centre for Policy Research think-tank. “But by demanding a debate in the manner that they are, these parties are not being constructive in their approach and it’s not doing anything for the institution of Parliament.”
Price pressures: Pranab Mukherjee. Photo by PTI
Government statistics released on Thursday showed food price inflation had fallen to 9.01% in the week ended 12 November from 10.63% in the previous week. At that level, food prices are still too high for a low-income, price-sensitive country like India.
Compounding the troubles for the UPA in Parliament on Thursday was the demand from another section of Lok Sabha MPs—this time from the Congress, which is the main constituent of the UPA—and the regional Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) for the creation of a separate Telengana state out of Andhra Pradesh.
Simultaneously, members of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded a discussion on the issues of price rise and the government’s allegedly insincere attempts to bring back illegal money stashed away in overseas banks.
This followed the BJP’s leader L.K. Advani submitting an adjournment notice that would entail the House setting aside scheduled business for a special debate on the latter subject. This led to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar adjourning the House for short periods twice and then for the entire day.
“At a point in time when there are serious economic decisions to be taken, there has to be the application of collective wisdom by Parliament and therefore, we would like once again to appeal to everybody that they need to rise above whatever differences we may have and allow the Parliament to function in a normal manner,” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari later told reporters.
In the Rajya Sabha, members from the BSP insisted on a discussion on price rise under a rule that entails voting— something the UPA would be averse to as it can embarrass the government, analyst Verghese said.
“Though a defeat in the vote does not mean the government has to resign—unless it is a finance Bill—it does entail considerable embarrassment for the government which is why most governments would wish to avoid this,” Verghese said.
Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy said the government was ready for a short duration discussion any time on the issue but that did not satisfy the protesting MPs and the deadlock forced the House to be adjourned for the day.
“The government should not have the attitude to just to talk it out (on the issue of inflation),” Communist Party of India leader D. Raja told reporters. “We have discussed the price rise many a times and even two resolutions have been adopted but nothing has happened. So there has to be something more substantial than merely discussing the issue.”
The drop in food price inflation prompted finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to say that “If these trends continue for the next two weeks for the month of November, I hope there will be moderation on inflation and it will have an impact on the year-end inflationary figures”.
The adjournment of Parliament on Thursday follows two similar unproductive days since the start of the winter session on Tuesday.
The UPA had been hoping to push through a raft of legislation to speed up economic reforms and stimulate a sluggish economy. The winter session last year too did not transact much business due to a standoff between the government and the opposition over the latter’s demand for a joint parliamentary probe into alleged irregularities in the allocation of second-generation (2G) spectrum.