NEW DELHI: For the second year in a row, the government had to face a big embarrassment in Rajya Sabha when an amendment moved by the Opposition to the President’s address was passed despite an appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw it. The House on Wednesday adopted the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address with the amendment moved by Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad. While 94 members voted for the amendment, 61, including the AIADMK, voted against it. The amendment regretted that the address did not mention that the government was committed to securing the fundamental rights to contest elections at all levels, including panchayat elections, in the backdrop of laws in Rajasthan and Haryana where matriculation has been fixed as the criteria for contesting the polls. The two states are ruled by the BJP.
The Opposition’s amendment, in effect, underscored the point that a large section of the population has been barred by these laws to contest polls for being uneducated.
Earlier, hitting out at Congress for the nation’s plight since Independence, Modi equated the party with death since a person who has died is never blamed for whatever happens. Replying to the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address, Modi once again invoked late Indira Gandhi as he attacked Congress for taking credit for all schemes launched by his government.
Quoting Gandhi who once famously said: “There are two kinds of people in the world — one who works and another who takes credit for it,” Modi said, “You try to belong to the first category because there is little competition in it.” “I don’t dispute that you (Congress) had launched several developmental activities. But what happened to them. Has there has been any development since then,” the PM said as his speech was repeatedly interrupted by the Opposition members, especially those from Congress.
The Prime Minister, in his speech, referred to the qualification criteria fixed in BJP-ruled Rajasthan and Haryana for those contesting panchayat polls and said it has been approved by the Supreme Court though attempts are being made to give it a “political colour”.
“There can be difference of opinion... Some say what about those who remained illiterate,” he said, and went on to target Congress, saying reason for ‘illiteracy’ was policies followed by its governments since Independence.
“We want to bring any qualitative change, but it is being politicised,” Modi said, daring Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad to give 33 per cent tickets to totally illiterate people to contest the upcoming Assembly elections in the five states to demonstrate Congress’ commitment in this regard.
Congress member Mani Shankar Aiyar intervened to say the PM has no idea how much illiteracy has increased since Independence and he is insulting the nation by his remarks. Modi, however, was sarcastically dismissive of his comments, terming them ‘bhule bisre geet’ (old songs) sung by someone whose membership is coming to an end.
There was a fierce debate in the House as the amendment moved by Azad was taken up, with the legal minds among the members coming to the fore with Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley, Congress leader Ashwini Kumar (both lawyers) engaging in a debate on whether Parliament was competent enough to discuss legislation passed by State assemblies.
Aiyar, at one point, interjected to remind the House that Parliament had enacted legislation on panchayats. He said the House was merely taking up a motion moved by Azad and was not passing legislation which would override the State’s domain.
This is not the first time the government had to face embarrassment as the Opposition had last year managed to get one of its amendments passed on the President’s address.
Earlier, Modi remained unfazed despite the Opposition taunts targeting him and laced his one-hour address with wit and humour to tame the attacks.
He recited Nida Fazli’s poem “Safar Me Dhoop to Hogi” to drive home the point that the Opposition onslaught notwithstanding, his government will carry on with the development work at hand.
“Death has a blessing. It never gets blamed for anything. If somebody dies, the blame goes to reasons like cancer, age. Death itself is never blamed or defamed. Sometimes I feel that Congress also has this blessing. If we criticise Congress, the media terms it as ‘attack on opposition’ but not an attack on Congress. However, if we attack (JD-U leader) Sharad ji (Yadav) or BSP, then it is said that it is an attack on JD-U or BSP,” he said.
Reminding the country of the 2G and spectrum scams during the UPA regime, the PM said that all-round corruption and nepotism had gripped the country before the NDA came to power.
However, mindful of the numerical strength of the Opposition in the Upper House, Modi sought to reach out to them as his government is planning to introduce the GST Bill in this session. He hoped that the conducive atmosphere prevailing in Parliament will help the government pass crucial legislation with the support of all members both in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
During his speech, Modi invoked former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s words to say that Rajya Sabha is a chamber of ideas and there’s need for coordination between it and the Lok Sabha because both of them are part of a structure.
Taking a dig at Azad for referring to alleged faultlines in Jan Dhan Yojana, Modi said he was trying to find fault with a microscope.
“I thank Ghulam Nabi Azad ji. This is what opposition should do. He got the recording done of what is lacking in Jandhan in Bhopal. Whatever the facts be, I appreciate the effort. It shows the Opposition is vigilant.”
Listing out the series of initiatives rolled out to propel the economy, Modi said coal allocation has fetched over `3 lakh crore, spectrum allocation around `1 lakh crore, while the ongoing auction for six other minerals could fetch `18,000 crore. He added that over 300 projects worth `15 lakh crore, which were pending at various levels, have been cleared by his government.
Making a pro-farmer pitch, Modi, whose government has been criticised as pro-rich by the Opposition, listed various measures taken in the last two years for the welfare of farmers.
He also quoted noted agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan, who had stated that a “dawn of a new era in farming is in sight”.