New Delhi: In what should augur well for the budget session beginning on Tuesday, an all-party meeting on Monday reached a consensus on the need to allow Parliament to function smoothly.

It signals a rethink by political parties, who have allowed their differences and the resulting disruptions to cause a washout of the previous two sessions.

However, a clarification issued by the Congress hours after the meeting cast a cloud over the prospects of Parliament passing the long-pending constitutional amendment bill to allow the rollout of a goods and services tax (GST) and the real estate bill.

Opposition leaders, particularly from the Congress, made it clear that they will not allow the passage of any “contentious" bills in the first half of the session—except those on which there is a consensus.

“Contentious bills should not be brought. Bring only those bills on which there is a general agreement. Bills like GST will not come in the first half of the session," Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha told the Press Trust of India.

Asked if the GST bill can be passed in the second half of the session, he evaded a direct reply, saying a view will be taken then.

The first half of the session is from 23 February to 16 March. After a recess (17 March-24 April), it will resume on 25 April and continue until 17 May.

Even though senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blame the Congress for disrupting Rajya Sabha, some leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders argue that the government must also restrain its own MPs.

“It is true that the Congress is not allowing the Rajya Sabha to function, but it also the responsibility of the government to control its MPs to create a conducive atmosphere both inside and outside Parliament for it to function," said a senior NDA leader who was part of the all-party meeting called by parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu.

During the meeting, the opposition, especially Congress and Left parties, sought parliamentary discussions on a range of topics, including recent incidents at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); the suicide by Hyderabad Central University student Rohith Vemula; demands for reservation; terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab; the government’s failure to pass on the benefits of the fall in crude oil prices to the common man; unemployment; the arrest of Tamil fishermen by Sri Lankan forces; and implementation of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act.

“Parliament is the forum for expression of collective wisdom of the country and showing the way forward in the larger interest of the nation. The government is committed to upholding the Constitution in letter and spirit and firmly believes in peace, unity and integration of the nation as the key operational principles for delivering on the development promised to the people. The government would enable discussion on all issues," said Naidu.

The meeting was attended by leaders of 26 political parties.

Apart from the Congress and Left parties, a number of others want a discussion on the events in JNU, where the president of the students’ union has been arrested for sedition, and Vemula’s suicide. These parties are the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United)and Biju Janata Dal.

The government is facing further problems because its alliance partner, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), feels that police action against JNU students was not justified and that it should have been left to the university authorities to act against erring students accused of raising “anti-national" slogans during a protest march on 9 February. However, senior TDP leaders want action to be taken against those who raised the slogans.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, blamed the government for the legislative standstill of the previous two sessions.

“The government is setting the agenda for Parliament’s disruption even before its session has begun. We have seen this agenda of BJP for the last three-four sessions. The government creates a situation in the country that is responsible for disruption," said Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He said the government should set aside time to discuss all the issues.

“If the government does not earmark time for these, there will be disruptions," he said.

During a meeting of the Congress Working Committee on Monday evening, party president Sonia Gandhi criticized the government, saying, “Democratic and liberal values are under severe assault. The freedom to think and speak is being drastically curtailed. Parliament meets tomorrow. Contrary to what the government has been saying, let me once and for all make it absolutely clear—we want Parliament to function, to legislate. The problem is not with us, it is with the government."

SP national secretary Rajesh Dixit said: “SP is willing to support the functioning of the house. The issue of having a debate on the JNU and Hyderabad University controversy was raised and our party is in favour of debating these issues when the session starts. At the same time, we proposed that in the Rajya Sabha, members of all states should identify and addr-ess their respective problems."

“If the government really wants to keep up with the legislative agenda then it will have to cool political tempers outside the Parliament. The politics outside will keep heating up so long as ministers and party leaders keep making controversial comments," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst associated with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “Even if these issues are brought up for discussion, it will not lead to anything other than both the sides accusing each other. I think this session too will not be a productive one, at least the first half."

PTI and Meenal Thakur of Mint contributed to this story.

gyan.v@livemint.com

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