Monsoon Session: Clouds of discord to stay for next 23 days?

New Delhi: Wearing spotless white on a sunny morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi entered Parliament with a message of peace, seeking Opposition cooperation for a constructive session.

But, within minutes, the much anticipated clouds of acrimony between the Opposition and the ruling sides overshadowed the proceedings, paralysing the first day of the monsoon session. Both sides have dug out ammunition against each others’ leaders for what could be a drawn-out battle, casting uncertainty over the fate of the next 23 days in Parliament.

The BJP has armed itself with around eight issues involving Congress governments in states to retaliate to the Opposition demand for resignations of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje over the Lalit Modi controversy and Madhya Pradesh chief minister on the Vyapam scam. Sources said notices to discuss allegations against various Congress leaders in states under different rules have already been given in Rajya Sabha by senior BJP members and would be given in Lok Sabha when it meets on Wednesday.

The government would neither agree to resignations in the BJP nor discussion on state issues, a senior party leader said. On the other hand, the mood in the Congress was to continue with its belligerent stand.

In a subtle warning to the Congress that it would dig out skeletons in its cupboards if it insisted on discussing state issues in Parliament, union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said “if Vyapam is discussed, why not Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, the allegations by US consultancy firm Louis Berger of paying bribe to a former Goa minister, allegations against Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy and Robert Vadra’s land deals?”

Asked if the Prime Minister will speak to break the deadlock, Prasad was evasive saying he had agreed to the Opposition demand for his statement on the issue of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s controversial remarks, “but the Congress did not allow the House to run.”

The government, which still has around ten sessions before the next Lok Sabha elections, is somewhat reconciled to disruption of the session and is unlikely to bend to end the deadlock, sources said.

On the first day, peace lasted as long as there were obituary references. The antagonism played out in Rajya Sabha, which faced four adjournments, while Lok Sabha adjourned for the day because of the demise of a sitting member from Ratlam Dileep Singh Bhuria on June 24.

It was clear from the outset that the government would not go on the backfoot and the Congress was unrelenting in its strategy to corner it. Congress and Left leaders recalled how sessions had got washed out during the UPA regime over the then Opposition’s demand for action against tainted ministers or chief ministers, hinting that the BJP was getting a taste of its own medicine.

Modi had recalled in the morning that some parties had assured cooperation at the all-party meeting. But, in Rajya Sabha, where the Opposition outnumbers the ruling NDA, while the Congress took the lead in the uproar, other opposition parties backed its demand for resignations. The government is hopeful that not all opposition parties would toe the Congress line.

On Wednesday, when Lok Sabha, in which the NDA has a comfortable majority, meets, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, in a manner typical of her, is likely to try persisting with the question hour amidst the furore, opposition members trooping into the well or the slogan-shouting. But, whether crucial bills, like GST, listed for the session can be taken up in the din is to be seen.

As the BJP braced itself to take on the Congress in Parliament, the party faced some embarrassment from within with one of its senior MPs Shanta Kumar writing to BJP chief Amit Shah saying the Vyapam scam had made “us all bow our heads in shame” and seeking an ethics committee to act like a Lokpal. Party leaders said he should have also mentioned about Virbhadra Singh.