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Vice President Hamid Ansari, PM Narendra Modi and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan await the arrival of President Pranab Mukherjee ahead of his address to a joint session of Parliament on the first day of the budget session in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
Vice President Hamid Ansari, PM Narendra Modi and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan await the arrival of President Pranab Mukherjee ahead of his address to a joint session of Parliament on the first day of the budget session in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: PTI

Opposition, govt brace for face-off in Rajya Sabha

Ensuing war of words may jeopardize rest of budget session, despite all parties agreeing to an orderly budget session

New Delhi: The opposition is likely to try and revive the intolerance charge it has repeatedly levelled against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, when it initiates on the ensuing row over the arrest of a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on charges of sedition and the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula at the Hyderabad Central University.

The government on its part is also likely to argue that the opposition is supporting “anti-national activities".

This especially given that both, Dalits and youth, are key vote banks being targeted by all political parties ahead of elections in Uttar Pradesh next year.

The ensuing war of words, if it spirals out of hand, could potentially jeopardize the rest of the budget session, despite all political parties agreeing to an orderly budget session of Parliament.

“The government has already assured the opposition that we are ready to have discussion on all the issues. We are aware that the opposition parties will use the two issues to target the government," said a senior cabinet minister.

The problem for the government has also increased because the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) have all joined hands with the Congress and the Left parties on the two issues.

“We want discussion and debate on the two issues. These are very serious issues and something constructive should come of the discussion. The NDA and opposition, especially Congress and Left, are using the issues to talk to their voter base, this will lead to confrontation," said Bhatruhari Mahtab, senior leader of Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

The Congress, the largest opposition party, will hold a meeting of its legislative party in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday morning to chalk out its strategy.

“We have signed for a short duration discussion on Rohith Vemula in Rajya Sabha and the JNU issue is already being talked about. The government has indicated to our party leaders that a discussion on all the contentious issues will happen but there is no clarity over how soon," a senior Rajya Sabha member from the Congress said.

The budget session of Parliament commenced on Tuesday with President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to a joint session of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

In the backdrop of the adversarial politics, Mukherjee said Parliament is a place for “debate and discussions" and not for “disruption or obstruction".

“Our Parliament reflects the supreme will of the people. Democratic temper calls for debate and discussion, and not disruption or obstruction... Being a member of this great institution bestows great honour as well as important responsibilities," Mukherjee said in his customary address. “My government will constantly strive for a smooth and constructive conduct of Parliamentary business. I urge all members of Parliament to discharge their solemn responsibilities in a spirit of cooperation and mutual accommodation."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck a similar note when he spoke to reporters before the start of the President’s speech.

“I am confident that Parliament will be utilized for constructive debate and there will be intensive discussion on the country’s hope and aspirations," he said. He said the discussions with the opposition parties were making headway and characterized their attitude as “positive".

Clearly, the government wants to avoid a repeat of the monsoon and winter sessions, where little work got done.

The opposition parties have said that they want Parliament to function but that this is contingent on a discussion on events in JNU and Hyderabad Central University (where Vemula was a research scholar).

The agenda for the session includes 32 bills, of which 11 are pending in Rajya Sabha.

Among the bills that will be introduced in this session are the Finance Bill 2016, the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, the Regional Centre for Bio-technology Bill, 2016, and the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

On Tuesday, opposition parties, including the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Left parties, came together to protest against the police crackdown on JNU students and the subsequent defence of its actions by the NDA.

The protest was attended by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi as well as Delhi chief minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal.

“We need a law to ensure that students in colleges and universities do not face discrimination and their voice is not stifled," Gandhi told the crowd.

“We don’t want an India where an ideology is imposed upon us. We are fighting for it," he said, adding that the government was trying to suppress not only the youth but also the adivasis, the Dalits and other weaker sections.

“It looks like the central government has decided to attack the Dalits and Babasaheb Ambedkar. I had said it earlier, too. Modiji don’t mess with students. If they get angry, they will shake you from your seat," Kejriwal said.

“These developments will affect the Parliament session. These issues (JNU and Hyderabad) are going to be strongly raised by opposition. There should be a bigger debate because it’s not just a students issue anymore but also how the government is going to handle the key issues going forward in varsities specially seeing the recent state interventions as well," said Badri Narayan, a Delhi-based political analyst and political science professor at JNU.

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