UPA seeks opposition’s help on reform legislation

UPA seeks opposition’s help on reform legislation

New Delhi: Dropping its confrontationist stand, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has sought the cooperation of the principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to facilitate the passing of key legislation in its reforms agenda.

In an altered strategy for the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, the BJP too signalled a more constructive approach to the session through debates and censure motions.

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The party could be trying to project a proactive image while discrediting the UPA government on issues such as corruption, inflation and terror, analysts say.

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Replying to a debate on a motion over price rise, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said his government will “require the support of all, especially the BJP" for the passage of reform legislation like the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA), Insurance Bill, and the goods and services tax (GST) to reinstate an investment-friendly atmosphere.

The government is under fire for its alleged failure in tackling corruption and inflation, which its critics say has weakened the confidence of investors and the Indian corporate in the country.

Mukherjee said if the opposition lets Parliament function and these Bills be pushed through, the country could have a new tagline: Hello India, goodbye world.

The Lok Sabha later passed a resolution saying, “Despite repeated discussions on price rise in the House, the burden of price rise on the common man is continuing. Expressing deep concern over price rise, this House calls upon the government to take immediate effective steps to check inflation that will give relief to the common man."

Mukherjee said the government had agreed with the opposition on the working of the resolution to give the message that Parliament can function collectively.

The BJP, which along with its allies had disrupted proceedings during the winter and budget sessions of Parliament, appears in a mood to use the session more productively.

“It has been our intention from day 1 of this session not to disrupt the proceedings," said BJP leader Yashwant Sinha.

Sinha, who led the opposition’s charge on Wednesday during a debate on price rise in the Lok Sabha, had blamed the government’s policy missteps for stoking inflation.

“The BJP seems to have done some soul searching and realized this continued boycott does not work and can, in fact, be counter productive," said Subrata Mukherjee, professor at the department of political science, Delhi University.

He said the BJP, which has a good support base among the middle class, would like to portray a proactive and less disruptive image.

“Further, the next three years till the 2014 Lok Sabha elections are important with crucial assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka due," Mukherjee said. “Since the Congress is anyway in doldrums, the BJP now wants to project itself as a responsible political outfit and constructive opposition."

The previous two sessions of Parliament saw a belligerent opposition, led by the BJP, causing frequent disruptions and moving adjournment motions. The winter session was a washout with the opposition refusing to relent on its demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the so-called second-generation spectrum scam and the government reluctant to concede to it. The budget session was relatively better after the government agreed to constitute a JPC.

According to PRS Legislative Research, a New Delhi-based independent initiative, the Lok Sabha sat for only 5% of the planned sitting in the 2010 winter session while the figure for the Rajya Sabha was just 2%. In the budget session of 2011, the Lok Sabha was productive for 85% of the planned time and the Rajya Sabha for 70%. On Thursday, however, the BJP vociferously attacked the government in the Rajya Sabha over the recent terror attack in Mumbai. In the Lower House, the party tried to block the introduction of the anti-graft Lokpal Bill, saying the legislation should bring in the Prime Minister into its purview. The proposed Bill, introduced in the House, has excluded the Prime Minister and the judiciary from the ambit of the legislation.

This session of Parliament is expected to see debates on contentious issues like corruption and black money, after price rise, as well as heated discussions on the Lokpal Bill and the proposed National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011. “The last two Parliament sessions were characterized by frequent disruptions by (the) opposition over different issues. However, both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have conducted its proceedings without major interruptions over the last two days," said Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research.

“Question hour, which is the biggest casualty due to interruptions, has also remained incident-free," Roy added.

PTI contributed to this story.