Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How BJP could scuttle food bill without even opposing it - Firstpost

New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi had the satisfaction of rolling out food security in three states – Delhi, Haryana and Uttarakhand – on the 69th birth anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi. But it would have been sweeter for her had Parliament passed it on Tuesday.

Despite all kinds of planning, backroom maneuvering and moves on the floor of the House, the UPA government failed to facilitate a discussion of the Food Security ordinance. The passage of the bill on the day held a lot of sentimental value for the Congress.

As Parliament opened after an extended holiday following a long independence weekend and Monday's closure of business on account of Dilip Singh Judeo's death, top Congress strategists had planned hard to somehow push for the mandatory ratification of the Food Security ordinance and its passage in the Lok Sabha. The party leadership was aware that the BJP would rake up the issue of missing Coalgate files and the TDP members could troop to the well on the issue of united Andhra.

To counter this, the floor managers of the government had planned a statement by the Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiwal on the files issue and the suspension of the TDP members from the House. Eviction of the TDP members from Lok Sabha for a limited period would have helped bring order in the House and facilitated discussion on the Food Security ordinance.

PTI

PTI

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath gave a clear hint on the suspension of TDP members when he said that there were provisions in the book to address such situations. All options were open and all provisions could be applied to bring the House to order. The Congress had already ensured the presence of all its members in the House.

Sonia Gandhi had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the morning to firm up the final strategy on the bill. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Singh Yadav was contacted a day ago but he had surprised the Congress leadership by moving some fresh amendments.

Even the Question Hour, the sanctity of which the ruling party leaders and the chair stress so much, was cancelled straightaway. The intent of the government was clear: it had to somehow clear the Food Security ordinance in Lok Sabha. But the government's floor managers had not anticipated the cacophony that started, with members from other parties, including the Left, the DMK, the AIADMK besides the TDP voicing their protests on different unrelated issues. The TDP members couldn't be named when so many others were also protesting.

The BJP by then had hardened its position on the missing Coalgate files demanding that the prime minister in his capacity as the then  Coal Minister during whose tenure the scam took place, explain how the critical files went missing. The BJP knew that the prime minister would not easily accede to the opposition's demand and make a statement at such a short notice. The two Leaders of Opposition, Arun Jaitley in Rajya Sabha and Sushma Swaraj in Lok Sabha, kept the aggression going.

"Files don't disappear, they are made to disappear," said Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha in a scathing response to Jaiswal. In the Lok Sabha, Sushma brought up a previous statement by the prime minister when he had accepted the responsibility of whatever happened during his tenure as Coal Minister. The BJP does not want the bill to be passed for economic reasons and for some other flaws that it contains. But call it the compulsion of vote politics, it does not want to be seen to be opposing a hugely populist scheme.

Narendra Modi has already listed his five-point objection to the bill and demanded a chief ministers' meeting before it is taken up by Parliament for ratification. The BJP is in constant search of valid alibis to rock the proceedings of the House to somehow delay, if not completely obstruct, the passage of this bill. Coalgate has come up at the right time.

The food security plan would cause a burden of Rs 1,25,000 crore on the exchequer ever year and would require 61.23 million tonnes of food grains. The bill provides for allocation of five kg food grain (per person) at fixed rate of Rs 3 (rice), Rs 2 (wheat) and Rs 1 (coarse grains) per kg to 75 percent of the country's rural population and 50 percent of population in urban India.

The bill may not have been passed by Parliament but it was unveiled by Sonia Gandhi in Delhi. "We have to be responsible for lives of the poor and that is why the Food Security Bill was introduced. So, now we have legally ensured food for the poor of the country," she said.

With Wednesday being a holiday in Parliament on account of Rakhsha Bandhan, the Congress now has very little time left. It could try to push the bill on Thursday. Friday being the Private Members day – it is generally a practice not to take up a legislation that requires long discussions on that day – so there's little hope. That leaves the Congress with only three days next week before Parliament closes on 30 August. But then if the bill is not passed in the current session, the ordinance will lapse. Should that happen it would be a huge embarrassment for the government.

Thursday onwards, it going to be an interesting battle of wits between the ruling Congress and the opposition.


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