Upper House has upper hand ~ arati r jerath
The ongoing monsoon session of Parliament is seeing something decidedly odd. So odd, in fact, that Congress president Sonia Gandhi was moved to query Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley when they met at Rashtrapati Bhavan for the President&’s At Home on Independence Day. Why, she asked Jaitley, is the Rajya Sabha functioning and passing bills while the Lok Sabha gets adjourned every day?
The little bird who overheard the question didn’t catch the reply. But the joke going around Parliament is that pan masala is proving more effective than imported chewing gum. In other words, pan masala addict Rajiv Shukla, who manages the Rajya Sabha for the government, has stolen a march over his gum chewing boss Kamal Nath who has failed to get the Lok Sabha going for even one day despite his legendary “deal-making’’ skills.
Old timers don’t recall this ever happening, that one House conducts business but the other doesn’t. PRS Legislative Research, which tracks both Houses of Parliament on a daily basis, had this to say at the end of the eighth day of the monsoon session. The Rajya Sabha cleared another bill, bringing the total number of bills passed by the Upper House so far to six. The Lok Sabha was adjourned yet again, this time in memory of sitting MP Dilip Singh Judeo, who passed away last week, and navy personnel who died in the tragic fire on the naval submarine Sindhurakshak. The Lower House, according to PRS Legislative Research, has not passed a single bill so far and only 15 per cent of its time has been spent productively. This is apparently one of the most dismal performances by the Lok Sabha.
On the other hand, the treasury and opposition benches in the Rajya Sabha have worked out a cosy arrangement. The morning is spent in disruptions, the afternoon in discussion and the evening in passing bills.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav&’s recent tête-à-tête with assorted VHP leaders, including Ashok Singhal, has sent a wave of dismay through his Muslim constituents. They are wondering whether Mulayam is preparing to play footsie again with saffron groupies like he did before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, when he formed an alliance with the man who was UP chief minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished, Kalyan Singh.
While Mulayam aides are attempting to explain away the meeting as an attempt to buy peace with the VHP before its planned march to Ayodhya to demand the construction of a Ram mandir, others are not quite convinced.
Reports are circulating that Mulayam and son Akhilesh were more than welcoming while receiving the VHP delegation. According to these reports, Akhilesh bent down to touch Singhal&’s feet as a mark of respect. And Singhal reciprocated with fulsome praise for a young man who upholds Indian traditions.
The mutual admiration has not gone down well with sections of the SP. Akhilesh&’s feared “chacha” Azam Khan was the first to hit out publicly. He said the meeting with the VHP sent a wrong signal to the Muslim community. With BSP chief Mayawati smirking over the public relations disaster by the father and son duo, the UP government has moved into damage control mode quickly and cancelled permission for the VHP yatra.
Halifax draws a blank
BJP leader Arun Jaitley seems to be taking perverse delight in confusing fellow politicians these days with references better suited to a talkathon by Oxonians from the elite St Stephen&’s College than a gathering of sons (and daughters) of the Indian soil. Some time ago, he pulled Tacitus out of Roman history while speaking in Parliament. Last week, it was a page from British history at a meeting of BJP office bearers from across the country. They had come to Delhi for a presentation on Operation 2014 by the party&’s presumptive prime minister candidate, Narendra Modi.
Mocking the BJP&’s indecision over anointing Modi as its PM nominee, Jaitley told the gathering that this was the party&’s Halifax moment. The majority of his dyed-in-saffron audience looked quite blank. They couldn’t understand the subtle point Jaitley was trying to make as he referred to the manner in which Britain&’s Conservative Party had dithered over replacing Chamberlain as the UK&’s wartime PM during World War-II. Amid talk of consensus, Chamberlain pitched for foreign secretary Halifax although a section felt that a better candidate to lead the war against Hitler&’s Germany was Winston Churchill who was tougher, more decisive and aggressively opposed to appeasing the Germans.
Jaitley went on to say that on the day the vote was to take place to elect a new leader in place of Chamberlain, Halifax, realising which way the wind was blowing, stayed away on the pretext of a toothache. This paved the way for Churchill&’s appointment as PM despite many misgivings. History proved Churchill to be a winning choice. But many in the BJP were at a loss to understand where Jaitley was pointing. A round of quiet explanations had to be given for the penny to drop.