Monsoon Session of Parliament: Few Bills, Protests and a No-Trust Vote
One of our readers, Jaspreet, pulls back the curtains on the monsoon session of the parliament and looks past the theatrics of the 18 days to provide a comprehensive take of its truly significant happenings.
The Parliament’s Monsoon Session began against the backdrop of public discontent due to continuous disruptions of legislative activity in both the houses. With key bills on the docket, especially some that would come in to replace ordinances, the government felt almost pressed to get work done.
The first two days saw some legislative business being undertaken in the parliament, with the passage of the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha and the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill in the Lok Sabha. It was a key piece of legislation put forth by the government to ensure that economic offenders, such as Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, are not allowed to flee the country along with providing a clause for the confiscation of the property of such offenders.
Throughout the 24-day session, protests (colourful, at times) were staged by the Telugu Desam Party’s MPs regarding the ‘Special State’ status being granted to Andhra Pradesh. They said that the government had backtracked on a promise made to Andhra’s people. The government tried to defend its stance by pointing out that the special package given to the state was commensurate and after the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendations, the category of ‘Special State’ did not exist anymore. Consequently, the TDP brought a No-Confidence motion against the government on this issue, which was supported and replicated by other opposition parties as they put forth their own no-confidence motions. Such a decision to bring a no-trust motion, the first one since 2003, was surprisingly even-handedly accepted by the government, as it saw the debate on the motion as a way to reaffirm the NDA’s numerical majority. The opposition did initially speculate on how some of the NDA’s allies would vote but it eventually conceded that the motion was symbolic and served as a way for voices of discontent to be raised in the parliament.
At the end of a marathon debate, we saw some hard-hitting speeches from both sides of the aisle and a ‘meme-worthy’ moment of Rahul Gandhi crossing the parliament floor to give the Prime Minister a surprise hug. While the opposition in its speeches raised a plethora of issues, majority of them were addressed by the NDA in a well-tested ‘counting of achievements, attack on the Congress, and recounting of past incidents to deflect blame’ approach, which has been characteristic of BJP leaders, especially in sight of the upcoming state and general elections. However, the numerical majority easily ensured that the NDA government sailed across the line with 325 votes to defeat the no-confidence motion.
Also thrown into contention during the no-trust debate were the allegations regarding the Rafale Fighter Jet deal, wherein the opposition parties, led by the Congress, demanded that the government be forthcoming regarding the financial details of the deal. The deal warranted scrutiny as the contract previously awarded to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was handed over to Reliance. While the Defence Minister and the BJP maintained that under a said secrecy clause the prices could not be revealed, Congress President Rahul Gandhi maintained that he had met with the French President, who reportedly told him that no such secrecy clause existed. While confusion ensued over the secrecy clause, a group of opposition leaders also subsequently moved a Privilege Motion against the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, alleging that they had lied to the parliament. While exact details still remain hidden from the public eye, subsequent press conferences by Congress leaders have left the BJP on the defensive and have raised multiple questions investigating possible crony-capitalism.
As the parliament returned to legislative business after the no-confidence debate, the proceedings witnessed discussions on issues of pressing national importance and even strong opposition unity as the BJP’s failure to effectively curb incidents of mob violence was repeatedly questioned by members of parliament. The government’s deflection of responsibility on the matter was highlighted and many Congress leaders including Shashi Tharoor stated that the government’s response to the matter was ‘unsatisfactory’.
A key bill that did not make it to the table this session was the proposed amendment of the RTI Act, which according to many experts and lawmakers would have been a severe dilution of the law. The Bill was reportedly not introduced in the Parliament following media coverage and outrage by opposition leaders, but it is likely that the bill may be reconsidered and brought back in the Winter Session.
Tasked with the massive burden of taking up a total of 43 bills over 18 sittings, this session of parliament has managed to get done with only a fraction of them. Nonetheless, legislative activity saw a significant improvement as compared to the previous session.
Going beyond the scope of Bills tabled and approved in the parliament, the government also faced heat from the opposition in both houses regarding the Assam Citizens list as members of the TMC, Congress and other opposition parties protested against it, saying that it was being used as a tool by the BJP to target Assam’s Muslim population. The government in its defence, offered by party leader Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, said that the BJP had only fulfilled what Rajiv Gandhi had signed in the 1985 Assam accord. The Home Minister also assured the parliament that no ‘citizen’ of India would be declared an illegal migrant and deported.
The monsoon session of the parliament has certainly witnessed an eventful period of 18 days but beyond the bills proposed and amended, the government has fallen short of providing concrete solutions to the problems of mob violence fuelled by rumours on social media, on reported acts of vandalism by the workers of BJP state cadres, and embarrassingly so on the Rafale issue, which is being characterised by many as the ‘Bofors’ of the NDA government.
While there was initial speculation that the government may call for early elections to be held in December, the matter has now been put out of contention and the parliament will witness the winter session and the budget session before the general elections. What remains to be seen is: Can the government build on this legislative momentum or will the parliament yet again fall prey to adjournments?