The party’s Gandhis-before-everything mindset was on show today during Zero Hour in the Rajya Sabha, where it overshadowed efforts to forge Opposition unity ahead of a battle over a key bill.
As the Trinamul Congress unfurled umbrellas in the Lok Sabha demanding repatriation of black money, the Congress too held up placards in the upper House. The placards demanded that Hyderabad airport continue to bear only Rajiv Gandhi’s name.
Civil aviation minister and Telugu Desam MP Ashok Gajapathi Raju had last week renamed the domestic terminal of Hyderabad’s new airport after his party’s founder, N.T. Rama Rao.
The old airport in Begumpet bore NTR’s name but the new one was christened after Rajiv, when it came up in 2008, by the then Congress chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy.
Led by V. Hanumantha Rao, a member from Telangana, Congress MPs invaded the well of the House and forced two adjournments, just when Trinamul was hoping to unite the Opposition on the black money issue in the Rajya Sabha too.
The non-Congress Opposition appeared cold to the Congress’s brief agitation. “How does it matter whether something is named after Rajiv Gandhi or Rama Rao?” said a Samajwadi Party MP.
The BJP hopes to use the Opposition’s “fault-lines” to push the insurance bill through this session, although a procedural technicality raised by a Marxist MP threatens a delay.
However, the government’s determination to make the bill see the light of day was evident in an intervention by finance minister Arun Jaitley when P. Rajeeve of the CPM raised the point of order.
Chandan Mitra, chairman of a select committee examining proposed amendments to the bill, had just moved a motion to extend the panel’s term to December 12 before it presents its report.
Once the cabinet clears the panel’s recommendations and they are scrubbed legally, they will be incorporated in the bill before it is placed in the Rajya Sabha.
Mitra’s (and the government’s) logic was that since two panel members, J.P. Nadda and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, had recently been made ministers and replaced by V.P. Singh Badnore and R. Ramakishna in the committee, more time was needed to study the report.
Rajeeve quoted procedure and precedent to argue the motion was untenable because the committee had not discussed the extension. The BJP feared this was an attempt to stall the grant of extension and, thereby, the report and the bill’s introduction.
If an extension were denied, the committee would have lapsed but the government would still have had a window to bring in the bill. However, this would not have been the government’s first choice — because several panel members are opposed to or undecided on the bill, and the BJP would want the new members to have a (pro-bill) say in the report.
Jaitley, though, took the bull by the horns, saying that if the House did not extend the panel’s life, the bill could be taken up on Wednesday. Eventually, the motion was adopted by voice vote.
Submission of the report by December 12 will give the government eight working days to push the bill through this session. The government’s strategists said they hoped to work on the Samajwadis and, eventually, the Congress.
The Congress’s dilemma was reflected in what a senior party MP had to say on a labour-related bill the Rajya Sabha passed today.
“We are the largest party in the upper House, yet we have ceded the Opposition space to Trinamul and the Left,” said the MP, believed to be close to Rahul Gandhi.
“When a bill the Opposition wants to block comes up, our leaders say it dates back to the UPA’s time and so we must pass it. I wanted to vote against the labour bill but my leaders said, ‘In that case stay away from voting’.”
The MP added: “We have to understand that we are in the Opposition; we are not duty bound to support a bill even if it originated in our time.”
But a source said the Congress might not take this line, deciding that it made little sense to scuttle the insurance bill from a long-term political perspective