Monday, June 24, 2024

Logjam ends, work in Parliament now?


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By Dr Satish Misra

It seems that after days of stalemate between the opposition and the UPA on the of discussion on the foreign direct investment in retail trade with voting, the two houses of parliament may take up the necessary legislative business which had been a hostage to one issue or the other in recent past. The Monsoon session of parliament was a total washout.

From all available indications, it appears that the two houses of parliament would discuss the FDI issue on Tuesday and Wednesday next week and then take a vote. The country would appreciate if the two houses can then conduct some important legislative business and pass some bills on insurance, banking, land acquisition and over a dozen others whose fate has been hanging in fire because Parliament was not able to meet for one reason of the other.

The government relented on the debate on FDI in retail with voting after a statement from its southern ally DMK. DMK chief M Karunanidhi said in Chennai, “The UPA government’s continuance is a must in the present situation. Though we have differences on FDI, we will support the government to avert the UPA’s fall. We do not want to give room for BJP to come to power.”

After the meeting with UPA allies on Tuesday, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said, “The UPA is fully united. The allies want the Speaker to decide. I will consult the Speaker.” On Wednesday, Nath met Leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley respectively and reportedly persuaded the two for not insisting on vote. After the meeting, Swaraj said, “the government asked us once again not to press for rule 184 but we insisted on a discussion with voting. We want Parliament to function.”

Nath said that the gover nment wanted Parliament to function and the deadlock on FDI has been resolved. “Both houses of Parliament must function. Voting on FDI is not needed, but we have left the final decision on the presiding officers of the two houses,” he said tacitly admitting that the government has agreed to demand of voting.

The BJP-led Opposition along with the Left parties has been insisting on a discussion under Rule 184 in the Lok Sabha and Rule 167 in the Rajya Sabha, which entail voting at the end of the debate. The government had so far held arguing that an executive decision on policy did not need Parliament’s approval. Fact of the matter was that the Manmohan Singh government did not have the necessary numbers to survive the voting and that is why behind the scene hectic parleys were going on with allies like the DMK and supporting parties like the SP and BSP.

With assurance of support from its allies, the government also needs the BSP and the Samajwadi Party, which provide crucial external support, to help it win a vote. Both parties have indicated that they will not do anything to hurt the government but are playing hard and are negotiating to extract their pound of flesh. As of now, the BSP may vote with the government if there is a vote on FDI. The Samajwadi Party in particular, as its chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has been a vocal opponent of FDI in multi-brand retail, may abstain from voting.

In the 545-seat Lok Sabha, if the SP (22 MPs) abstains, the majority mark in the House will be reduced from 273 to 261. The UPA, including all allies big and small, has 262 MPs, and will cross 261 and if the BSP votes along then the UPA would have a majority of 283 against the entire opposition’s strength of 260.

In the Rajya Sabha, however, the story is different and much more complex for the ruling combine. In the upper house, the government might need more active help from the SP (9 MPs) and BSP (15 MPs). The Upper house has 244 seats and the UPA, all allies, has only 95 MPs. The halfway mark in this House is at 123; if the BSP and SP abstain in the Rajya Sabha too, the majority mark will be reduced to 111. Even with 12 nominated MPs voting for the government, it will be stretch to reach 111.

A defeat in either of the house would have been a terrible loss of face and credibility for the government which has been aggressively pushing the FDI in retail for last few months. A negative vote in either house of parliament would not only result in withdrawal of the FDI decision but the government’s writ would stop running. The country would have to get ready for the general elections.

Despite the reported understanding reached between the UPA and the opposition, nothing is certain yet as there are many fault-lines in the system. Leaders of the political parties have their own priorities and carry their egos on their sleeves. The political system is prone to accidents and any fuse may bring the situation back to square one.

It would be a loss of credibility and popular trust for the entire political class. Already, people are confused over the political behaviour as former ideological adversaries seem to be on the same side. Coming together of the BJP and the Left parties has sent mixed signals to people at large who have been used to see things in black and white terms.

It would be tragic if the political class this time does not come up to the popular expectations.


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