Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi, senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and other members of Parliament shout slogans during a protest against suspension of 25 party members, at Parliament in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: PTI
New Delhi: The relationship between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress worsened on Friday following sharp exchanges, triggering concern about the government’s ability to push key reforms legislation, including the constitutional amendment to roll out a goods and services tax (GST).
With just four working days left in the monsoon session, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was expected to try and obtain Parliament’s approval for some key legislation.
The joint committee on the controversial land acquisition bill is scheduled to present its report on Monday, following which the government will take a call on when to present it in Parliament.
The Congress continued to boycott the Lok Sabha for the fourth day in a row after 25 of its members were suspended for five days by speaker Sumitra Mahajan for disruptive behaviour.
The key opposition party is demanding the resignation of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje for interceding with British authorities to help former cricket administrator Lalit Modi, who is being investigated by Indian agencies for alleged improprieties in the conduct of the Indian Premier League.
Friday saw an acrimonious exchange of words between top leaders of the Congress and the BJP.
“When a theft occurs, two things take place. Whatever happens is in secrecy and there is a financial transfer. What Sushma Swaraj did was by maintaining secrecy and keeping her ministry in the dark,” Congress vice-presidentRahul Gandhi told reporters. “She should tell the country how much money her family, her daughter and husband got from Lalit Modi to keep him out of jail.”
Swaraj claims that she helped Modi get travel papers to visit Portugal on humanitarian grounds to see his ailing wife, who had been hospitalized there. On Thursday, she questioned whether Congress president Sonia Gandhiwouldn’t have done the same.
Responding to Swaraj’s speech in the Lok Sabha a day ago, Sonia Gandhi slammed the minister. “Sushma Swaraj is doing drama, she is an expert in theatrics… I would have certainly done my best to help the lady, but not by breaking the law,” she said.
In a counter-attack, human resource development ministerSmriti Irani said: “People in this country know that a woman coming from a normal family has to toil hard to make a space for herself in the society and its economy. It is generally seen that children of such women also work hard. Congress may have an exception in the Gandhi family where they don’t have to sweat it out in the sun to earn their livelihood.”
Meanwhile, in a bid to shore up support from friendly parties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday met Tamil Nadu chief minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J. Jayalalithaa in Chennai.
She raised concerns about GST and said that a manufacturing state like Tamil Nadu will “permanently lose substantial revenue” if GST was implemented, due to the shift of levy from the point of origin to the point of destination, according to a PTI report.
With 37 seats in the Lok Sabha and 11 in the Rajya Sabha, the AIADMK could potentially bolster the NDA, which is in a minority in the 245-member Upper House.
Without sufficient numbers in the Rajya Sabha, the government will need the support of not just like-minded parties, but also opposition parties to pass the two important bills, central to the economic agenda of the government.
“I sincerely appeal to the Congress to return to the House and place their view on the record of the House. I would expect Sonia Gandhi to seriously ponder over the issue after the clarification of Sushma Swaraj and enable proper functioning of the Parliament for at least the remaining four sittings,” parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu told reporters.
The problem for the government is that the total strength of the NDA in the Upper House is 63, compared with 68 for the Congress alone. In fact, the government hasn’t been able to present important bills, including those on GST and land acquisition, for lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha.
“The kind of language that has been used shatters any hope of a reconciliation even after the suspension period of the Congress members get over,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, a Delhi-based political analyst.
On Modi meeting Jayalalithaa, Rao said: “The meeting in my opinion was more on the lines of seeking her views as well as her cooperation to achieve a breakthrough in the ongoing impasse of Parliament.”
PTI contributed to this story.