Monday may not be a smooth working day for Parliament. But with the government reaching out to the Opposition, some key legislations slated for the Monsoon Session—the National Food Security Bill, and Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill—are likely to be taken up next week. Not just that, there’s a possibility that the constitutional amendment bill on Indo-Bangladesh land boundary agreement could also be introduced.
If the road has been more or less cleared for a debate and passage of the food bill by Wednesday, the government by bowing to BJP’s diktats on the land acquisition bill has ensured it too gets passed. Next, the contentious insurance and pension bills are likely to be taken up, even though, sources hint, there are a few ‘safeguards’ issues that the BJP wants to get addressed.
It is not that the storm would be any less on Monday when the food bill is slated to be taken up for a six-hour long debate in Lok Sabha. With nearly one lakh Left/CPI(M) party cadres waiting to gherao the Kerala state secretariat to generate some more solar scam heat on Chief Minister Oommen Chandy , it cannot be business as usual. The BJP too is itching to provoke the Congress on the latest Robert Vadra land deal revelations (on alleged falsification of documents), so there were will be noise in Parliament. “These events will naturally find reflection on the floor of the House. Can the Congress control their own Andhra/Telangana MPs from shouting slogans?” senior CPI(M) leader Basudev Acharya said.
Nonetheless, Acharya has not entirely ruled out the food security debate on Monday. His fellow MP from the Opposition benches, BJP’s Shahnawaz Hussain, says the same: “We’re preparing to take part in the debate. We’re not against food security, but we’ll point out the flaws in the bill they’re bringing. After that it is for the government to see the House is in order.”
Surprisingly, the Government’s parliamentary managers claim they have also convinced supporting Samajwadi Party satrap Mulayam Singh Yadav to take part in the food security debate. Though they do not themselves see the bill getting passed anytime before Wednesday, given the importance of the issue and the political ramifications will it have in the coming election, they expect the SP chief himself to move the five amendments his party is proposing—cent per cent Central funding from procurement to distribution, free, not subsidised food grains, to the extremely poor and freedom to states to implement the bill the way they want.
How then is the government so sure of its passage? The two blocs in the Opposition benches, the BJP and the Left, too are bringing in several amendments to the bill. Well, as a CPI(M) leader indicated, “We’ll press for division and then walk out.” The BJP is expected to follow a similar line, either support the bill by getting the government to accept a few of their amendments on the floor of the House or walk out. This will drastically bring down the number of votes required for passage of the bill. The JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar has already pledged support, so have Mayawati’s BSP.
Nonetheless, worries remain. The competitive politics over the bill by AIADMK and DMK may pose a problem. While the ruling party of Tamil Nadu is opposing the bill as an infringement on federal rights, the DMK is threatening to move amendments. Both may ask for division, which might get tricky for the government. The AIADMK which already has a successful food security scheme in place in Tamil Nadu will have nothing to lose if the bill falls through, unlike the BJP which does not want to be seen as the architect of the defeat of a bill that promises cheap foodgrains for the poor. Either way, the government says, it is a win-win for them. “If we can’t get it through we’ll tell the people, the Opposition did not allow us to pass a pro-people bill,” a Congress minister said.
On the land acquisition bill, however, there’s no such brinkmanship. That is reason why the Union Cabinet quietly approved all the five amendments proposed by the Opposition, including the one insisted upon by Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj. She has ensured that the land is not sold but leased out by the farmers whereby they continue to get an income from their land for years to come. She has also ensured 50 per cent compensation to farmers whose land got purchased after the introduction of the bill on September 5, 2011.
On the insurance bill, which seeks to raise FDI cap, BJP leaders Ravi Shankar Prasad and Yashwant Sinha continue to give negative vibes. However, during a meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself had with the Opposition leaders, including BJP veteran L K Advani, a mid-way point has been worked out. The nitty-gritty of it is being put in place by Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s joint operation.
Similarly, on the pension bill, the opposition has been narrowed down to an acceptable draft of the bill. However, the political climate and extraneous considerations may still have a role to play in what happens in the House next week—legislation or bedlam. Amid all this the Indo-Bangla border agreement, a promise made to a neighbour, may just get kept.
The Sunday Standard