R C RAJAMANI
New Delhi, 1 September
In a highly productive week by recent standards, members in the Lok Sabha sat late to pass the Food Security Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill even as both Houses remained in turmoil intermittently and were adjourned now and again over several issues, notably the Telengana tangle.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally made a statement on the state of the economy in the wake of the weakening of the rupee, widening current account deficit and the nervous behaviour of the markets. He also responded to the Opposition demand over the missing files in the coal allocations scam, echoing what Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath rather gallantly said, that the PM is not “the custodian” of files of the coal ministry.
After a nine-hour-long debate, the Lok Sabha passed the Food Security Bill, dubbed as “the game changer” for UPA-2, adopting a number of official amendments and rejecting the ones by the Opposition in a prolonged and tortuous voting exercise.
BJP veteran Mr Murli Manohar Joshi said: "This Bill is not Food Security Bill, this is vote securing bill.” SP leader Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav also questioned the motive behind bringing the Bill and said that it has been done with an eye on elections.
There was high drama when the amendment moved by BJP leader Ms Sushma Swaraj for cash in lieu of food was ‘approved’ by mistake by the Congress members saying ‘aye’ instead of the expected ‘no’. The vote was retaken after Mrs Swaraj agreed to the Speaker’s suggestion. Her amendment was duly negatived.
The moving spirt behind the Bill, Mrs Sonia Gandhi was not present when it was finally passed. Mrs Gandhi suddenly took ill and was rushed to AIIMS for treatment.
The Trinamul Congress voted against the Land Acquisition Bill.
Speaking on the economic situation, BJP member and former finance minister Mr Yashwant Sinha called for early elections to “save” the country out of the “current economic mess.”
The house of elders saw stinging exchanges between Mr Singh and leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley when the PM was responding to clarifications by members on his statement on the economy. Accusing the Opposition of not cooperating with the government in running Parliament, Mr Singh said: "If the record of last nine years is looked at, the principal Opposition has never reconciled itself that it was voted out of power in 2004.” This drew a howl of protests from BJP members. After order was restored, Mr Singh, still in a combative mood, asked, "Have you ever heard of any other country where primary Opposition walks to the well of the house and shouts ‘PM chor hai’ ", as Congress members shouted "shame, shame.”
This provoked Mr Jaitley into delivering the riposte: “Have you ever heard of any country where the prime minister has won the vote of confidence by buying MPs?" The allusion was to the July 2008 trust that was mired in allegations of money changing hands ~ from Congress to some other MPs to get them to vote for the motion. On the last day of the week, the Lok Sabha was adjourned without transacting any business as TDP and Congress members from Andhra Pradesh trooped into the well, shouting, “ We want justice, save Andhra Pradesh.”
As Parliament goes into its extended last week on Monday, the Opposition is likely to raise the issue of missing files and embarrass the government, especially the Prime Minister.