A united opposition is set to corner the government over the issue of intolerance in the Winter Session of Parliament beginning Thursday but the prospects of a thaw on the crucial GST bill brightened with both sides expressing preparedness for discussing it.
Opposition is likely to press for a resolution to condemn the alleged rise in intolerance, a demand unlikely to be conceded by the government which instead prefers a debate, seeking to project incidents like Dadri lynching as law and order issues pertaining to states.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said though the government does not agree with the perception of rising intolerance, “we are willing to go along with Opposition in this regard for a discussion in an appropriate manner, if you desire.”
The government “does not support or condone” such incidents and is aware of the Opposition’s concerns on “unfortunate incidens like Dadri and killing of M M Kalburgi”, he said.
However, on the GST bill, both sides talked about the need for discussions to thrash out issues on some of the contentious clauses.
Setting the tone, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the Opposition for cooperation as he made a strong pitch for early passage of the GST bill at the all party-meet convened by Naidu, saying it will be in the interest of the nation.
He told the Opposition leaders that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will hold discussions with them on their concerns.
Congress, on the other side, said it was open for discussions on GST bill on which it has “very genuine concerns”.
“We are open for discussions. Let us see how far they go ahead,” Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
In back-to-back meetings with Opposition leaders who wanted Parliament to pass a resolution condemning incidents of intolerance, the government emphasised that it is wise enough to appreciate that “development is possible only in an atmosphere of peace and harmony.”
In the evening, the Prime Minister met leaders of NDA allies to formulate the strategy. After the meeting, Raju Shetty of Swabhimani Shetkaari Sangathana said the Prime Minister was confident of passage of the GST bill.
JD(U) president Sharad Yadav announced support to the GST after the all-party meet convened by Naidu.
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the Centre should hold talks with states on the issue of GST as they will lose all legislative power on tax matters once it comes into force.
He regretted that such talks have not been held despite repeated pleas for the same by the Left parties.
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan also held an all-party meeting to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who was in Bengaluru, said, “We are going to raise the issue of intolerance. What is happening in the country is distrubing and the Prime Minister is silent.”
Yechury said he has given a notice in Rajya Sabha seeking passage of a one-line resolution by the House condemning the incidents of “intolerance” and asking the government to ensure that such incidents do not happen again.
Azad put the ball in the government’s court saying “ultimately, it is for the government whether they are interested in running the House or not.”
Holding that a number of things have been going on in the country since the government and the Opposition met last in the Monsoon Session, Azad insisted that those points have also to be accommodated and that there has to be discussion on intolerance, price rise, farmers’ plight, on flood situation and a number of other things.
“We have made our views very clear to the government that we are in favour of transacting the business provided our genuine demands and concerns which are concerning the people of the countryare taken on board,” the Congress leader said.
Assuring Opposition members on this count, Naidu said, “government is ready to discuss all issues including that of the so-called intolerance though it falls in the domain of states. We do not support or condone such incidents.
“We have nothing to hide. We are ready for a debate on intolerance. Government has nothing to feel shy about it. Even about the so-called intolerance, we are prepared to have a debate.”
On the crucial GST issue, Naidu said that the government has decided to have dialogue with Congress. “It will address concerns of Opposition on GST and other bills,” he said after the NDA meet.
Modi, who attended the all-party meeting briefly, said Parliament should run meaningfully and constructively to fulfill the people’s expectations.
Briefing media persons later, Naidu said the meet was held in a very cordial and meaningful way, raising the prospects of a productive Winter session.
Naidu informed that during the two-sitting special sitting beginning tomorrow, Vice-President and Speaker will make opening remarks in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha respectively following which Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is also the Deputy Leader of the House to initiate discussion in the Lower House while Finance Minister and Leader of the House would do so in Rajya Sabha.
Prime Minister will intervene towards the end of the discussion in both Houses, he said.
Issues for discussion suggested by different parties include: Drought and heavy rains in different parts of the country; agrarian distress, declining industrial production and exports, Centre-State relations including extending financial support to states, Nepal issue, Womens reservation, striking down of National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill etc.
Giving details of the Government Business for the Winter session, Naidu said that in consultation with various ministries, 38 items have been identified of which 22 items have been prioritized.
At the NDA meeting, the Prime Minister asked Naidu to evolve a mechanism for having meetings of the BJP-led coalition every two months.
NDA leaders also resolved to strengthen urban local bodies and Modi said a system in the Centre as well sates should be put in place.
BJP allies have in the past often called for more regular meetings of the NDA.
Shiromani Akali Dal leaders pitched for an amendment in the SGPC Act and Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured them of looking into it.
The listed legislative business includes bills replacing Ordinances including the Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Ordinance, the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Ordinance, the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Ordinance.
Besides there are bills passed by one House and pending in the other including the crucial GST bill (The Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 regarding introduction of GST) , as passed by Lok Sabha.
Others include The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2015, The High Court and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill 2015, Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012; and the Anti-Hijacking Bill.
The new bills for introduction are The Payment of Bonus (Amendment) Bill, 2015, The Industries (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2015, The Agricultural Bio-Security Bill, 2015, The National Cooperative Development Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2015, The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2015, The Regional Centre for Bio-technology Bill,2015 and The Indian Institute of Management Bill,2015.
With the last Session getting washed out, Naidu said, “we need to leave memories of Monsoon session behind and together move forward.”
In an indication of what note Parliament session will begin, Azad noted that the government is starting the session with a discussion on the Constitution of India.
“If you read the preamble of Constitution of India that starts with Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Practice. So they have to see in the discussion and in that context also whether we are going to make our commitment to Constitution or not,” he said.
To a question, Azad said Congress has not given up the demand for the resignation of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in the Lalit Modi controversy.
He said that in the all-party meeting, he confronted Jaitley with his two reported statements on the issue of Congress stand on the GST.
While one statement spoke of government planning to reach out to the Opposition, the other dismissed Congress objections as “preposterous”, Azad said, adding that the government then said the issue would be discussed with them.
After the all-party meeting held by the Speaker, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that more time should be given for the debate on Constitution.
“We will raise our issues Monday onwards after giving notices,” he told reporters after the meet.