Home >politics >policy >Govt to go on the offensive, risking its legislative agenda

New Delhi: A day after sparring over Congress allegations of political interference in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, the government on Tuesday decided to take on the opposition politically, in the process risking its legislative agenda in the ongoing second half of the budget session of Parliament.

During a parliamentary party meeting of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), senior ministers told the party’s members of Parliament (MPs) to be on the offensive against the Congress on the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing case and corruption allegations in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal.

Senior leaders of the BJP argued that while different security agencies had pointed out that Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist and a member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had tried to prove that she was “a nationalist". BJP members said they will demand a discussion in both the Houses of Parliament on the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing case.

“This was the first time that the then home minister, P. Chidambaram, was trying to prove a terrorist as a nationalist. It seemed that the former home minister appeared to be working with LeT. The nation would not have seen something as abhorrent and shameful as this," said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, minister of state for parliamentary affairs. Naqvi alleged the Congress, then in power at the centre, was trying to politically finish off Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat and BJP president Amit Shah, who was a minister in the state government.

Ishrat Jahan, a resident of Mumbra near Mumbai, was shot dead along with three men on 15 June 2004 by the Gujarat police. Former home secretary G.K. Pillai had said in an interview to TimesNow on 25 February that the UPA government had got a reference to the LeT deleted from an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court.

There is some support for the government as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has also demanded that there should be a detailed discussion on the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing case and that all details regarding the case be brought to light as it involved security of the country. “We have given a notice to discuss Ishrat Jahan case; it is a serious issue and there should be discussion," said Bhartruhari Mahtab, a senior leader of the BJD.

The tussle between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the opposition, primarily the Congress, will also affect the legislative agenda of the government in Parliament. With just 13 working days remaining in the session, the constitutional amendment bill to roll out a goods and services tax is in a limbo.

The BJP is also trying to bring back corruption allegations to try and isolate the Congress. This comes after observations of an Italian court that found corruption in the 3,565-crore AgustaWestland deal.

According to news reports, the Milan court of appeals on 8 April said there was reasonable belief that corruption took place. The UPA government in 2010 decided to buy 12 helicopters from the Italian manufacturer, but the deal was cancelled in 2013. The Italian court has reportedly named former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi for intervening in favour of AgustaWestland helicopters.

“With the conviction of the two gentlemen in the appellate court (in Italy), corruption has been proven. Bribe givers have been convicted after trial by the appellate court, why are the bribe takers silent? The government expects the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) to investigate the matter. The secrecy clause has not been enforced, so it is for the CBI to address those concerns. It’s for the Enforcement Directorate to undertake a speedy probe in the money laundering charge. The larger issue is that Mr Antony (UPA defence minister A.K. Antony), if bribe givers have been convicted, would bribe takers come out clean?" Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters on Tuesday.

During the day in Parliament, the opposition once again tried to corner the government on the political situation and imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand but the government maintained that the state government was in a minority which led to a constitutional crisis. Even though Congress members got the support of the Samajwadi Party, the continuous disruptions in the upper House led to the early adjournment of the Rajya Sabha.

“Thirty-five out of 67 members (in Uttarakhand) give in writing we have voted against a bill and the presiding officer says that minority is the majority and majority is the minority. That is the breakdown of constitutional machinery," said finance minister Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha.

Meanwhile, the Congress party, too, prepared to corner the government in Parliament. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi met students and parents from the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, and assured them that his party will raise their concerns in Parliament.

“Met students & parents from NIT Srinagar who expressed concern over the safety & security of students on campus. I assured them that the Congress Party would raise their concerns & put pressure on the government to resolve the matter," Gandhi tweeted.

The Congress party raised the NIT Srinagar issue in the lower House of Parliament, blaming the central government of inaction when students of the university clashed with the police on 5 April.

Senior Congress leaders questioned if paramilitary forces were deployed at the institute to maintain law and order.

The state’s ruling alliance, which includes the BJP, has been accused of a heavy handed response to a clash between groups of students.

In its response, the government said that the report of magistrate’s inquiry was awaited while a team from the central ministry of human resource and development had already been sent to the NIT authorities.

Home minister Rajnath Singh also intervened in the debate in the Lok Sabha and said that many non-Kashmiri students were returning to the campus and that arrangements had been made for their examination to be conducted again.

“Non-Kashmiri students who left the campus are returning and their exams will be conducted between 26 and 29 May," Singh said.

Political analysts say that there seems to be a pattern to the government failing to respond to events around the country, which, in turn, had led to the Parliament not functioning for quite some time now.

“Right from the (former Indian Premier League chief) Lalit Modi case, the government hasn’t felt the need to respond to any such issues. Their majority has made them authoritarian, which, in turn, has opened avenues for the opposition to agitate. Floor management by keeping in touch with the opposition has to come from the government, without which parliamentary business will continue to suffer," said Ellora Puri, who teaches political science at Jammu University.

Pretika Khanna and PTI contributed to the story.

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