Winter Session: Tactical Shift in Congress’ Plan to Woo India Inc

Yet another session of the Parliament to be fraught with challenges. What will be fate of crucial bills?

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Congress President Sonia Gandhi with party leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Ghulam Nabi Azad at Parliament House in New Delhi, November 19, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

In a tactical shift, the Congress has decided not to allow the winter session of the Parliament, to begin on Thursday, result in a complete washout, as was the case with the monsoon session. During the last session, the Grand Old Party blocked the proceedings over Lalitgate and Vyapam scam, derailing key reform legislation such as the GST, Real Estate and Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation bill.

This shift is part of a well thought-out strategy to send out a positive message to the India Inc and the aspirational class.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan greets Congress President Sonia Gandhi after paying tributes to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, November 19, 2015. (Photo: PTI)
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan greets Congress President Sonia Gandhi after paying tributes to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, November 19, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

Nevertheless, the plan comes out with a caveat that BJP hotheads do not vitiate the atmosphere on the eve of the session, and the Modi government jettisons its confrontationist approach vis-a-vis the Opposition.

Congress Woos India Inc

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi recently met with a number of corporate honchos and foreign institutional investors to de-fang the BJP “propaganda” that he is anti-business. These quiet moves were intended to restore the corporate confidence in the Congress, which is the original reformer.

The Gandhi scion has since realised that prolonged disruption could become counter-productive. The unpopular tactic over Lalitgate and Vyapam had dented the image of the party in industry and public perception few months ago.



Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi interacting with foreign institutional investors, November 20, 2015. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/OfficeOfRG">@<b>OfficeOfRG</b></a>)
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi interacting with foreign institutional investors, November 20, 2015. (Photo courtesy: @OfficeOfRG)

Instead of stalling the House for the sake of it, the Congress strategy appears to be to corner the government on a variety of issues such as the climate of “intolerance” and skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, atrocities on Dalits and so on. These issues will not only put the government and the BJP on the back foot but also find more traction among people, party strategists believe.

Snapshot

Winter Session Strategy

  • Congress comes up with a new floor strategy ahead of Winter Session; tactical shift evident with Rahul Gandhi meeting business leaders
  • Sources say, Congress has not discarded Lalitgate and Vyapam scams and would be raised appropriately in the House
  • BJP fears the spectacular victory of the Grand Alliance in Bihar polls will propel the Opposition into a more combative mood in Parliament
  • BJP interlocutors tell Congress that the government is willing to amend the GST to incorporate some of its suggestions
  • In case the government exhausts its options it can convene a joint session of Parliament to pass the crucial GST bill to bypass Rajya Sabha

Will PM Break Silence?

The Opposition and the Congress are hoping to force Prime Minister Narendra Modi break his fabled silence over the incidents of “intolerance” on the floor of the House.

Sources said the party has not discarded Lalitgate and Vyapam scams and they will also be raised appropriately in the House.

The Opposition and the Congress are hoping to force Prime Minister Narendra Modi break his fabled silence over the ‘intolerance’ debate on the floor of the House. (Photo: PTI)
The Opposition and the Congress are hoping to force Prime Minister Narendra Modi break his fabled silence over the ‘intolerance’ debate on the floor of the House. (Photo: PTI)

The Congress also plans to attack the government over 49 per cent FDI in the defence sector. Party claims that the government has done away with stipulated checks, that the investments in sensitive sectors should be scrutinised by the FIPB and approved by the CCS.

Opposition in Combative Mood Post-Bihar Polls

Having lost already 18 months of the NDA government, the winter session will be decisive for Modi’s reform agenda and unmitigated friction between the Opposition and treasury benches could further delay key bills such as the GST.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi greets Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during the latter’s swearing-in ceremony at Gandhi Maidan in Patna, November 20, 2015. (Photo: PTI)
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi greets Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during the latter’s swearing-in ceremony at Gandhi Maidan in Patna, November 20, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

On the eve of the session, the BJP appears to have mellowed down a bit thanks to the resounding defeat in Bihar and the loss of face due to the unsavoury comments by in- house hotheads. BJP fears that the spectacular victory of the Grand Alliance in the Bihar polls will propel the Congress, JDU, RJD, Trinamool Congress and the Left into a more combative mood in Parliament.

Indicating a thaw in the prevailing hostile atmosphere, government managers have been attempting to reach out to the Opposition. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had recently tried to mend fences with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul ostensibly to invite them to his daughter’s wedding.

In case the government exhausts all other options it can convene a joint session of Parliament to pass the crucial GST bill to bypass Rajya Sabha.&nbsp;(Photo: PTI)
In case the government exhausts all other options it can convene a joint session of Parliament to pass the crucial GST bill to bypass Rajya Sabha. (Photo: PTI)

Overcoming Upper House Hurdle

BJP interlocutors are understood to have told the Congress that the government is willing to amend the GST to incorporate some of its suggestions to make the tax law more holistic.

The other day, the unthinkable happened; first time a member in the Modi cabinet (environment minister Prakash Javadekar) walked into the AKG Bhavan, the Marxist headquarters to meet CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechuy to brief him on India’s stand at the world conference on climate change.

The BJP having just 48 MPs is in a minority in the 245-member Rajya Sabha and it needs another 65 members to reach the majority mark. After its defeat in Bihar and the tough road ahead in Uttar Pradesh before 2017 polls, it will not be possible for the saffron party to augment its Upper House strength to three digits during the remainder of the government’s term.

Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu with former Finance Minister P Chidambaram at an awards function in New Delhi, November 23, 2015. (Photo: PTI)
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu with former Finance Minister P Chidambaram at an awards function in New Delhi, November 23, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

In case the government exhausts all other options it can convene a joint session of Parliament to pass the crucial GST bill to bypass Rajya Sabha. It could also explore the option of converting some bills into money bills to overcome the Upper House hurdle. But these are unpopular options in a parliamentary democracy.

Apart from the Opposition, the Prime Minister may also have to take the RSS on board with regard to FDI. Sangh affiliates such as BKS (Bharatiya Kisan Sangh) also have reservations on FDI in defence. Jaitley recently had a meeting with BKS leaders to iron out differences over foreign investment in sensitive sectors. It will be in the nation’s interest if all stakeholders put on their thinking cap and salvage the session.

(The writer is a political commentator)

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