By Tushar Singh
A session of Parliament which courted controversy even before it started was guaranteed to be entertaining. When the central government postponed the commencement of the Winter Session of Parliament from November to the 15th of December—one day after Gujarat finished casting its votes in their state polls—the opposition parties cried foul, saying that the delay was a cheap trick by PM Modi so that he could focus on campaigning in Gujarat. The central government replied by saying that the previous Congress governments of Indira Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, and Manmohan Singh have used the same tactic. Nevertheless, the Winter Session went ahead and completed its work on the 5th of January, so it is now possible to take stock of the highlights.
First parliamentary blockade
During one of his election rallies in Gujarat, Narendra Modi alleged that former PM Manmohan Singh was conspiring with Pakistan to influence the outcome of the Gujarat Assembly elections. This caused an uproar in the ranks of the opposition, and Congress demanded that the Prime Minister apologise inside the Parliament for his comments. Congress and BJP only called a truce after nearly two weeks of protests when Finance Minister Jaitley, leader of Rajya Sabha, clarified that the PM never questioned the integrity of Manmohan Singh and the BJP holds these leaders in high esteem.
No ‘Sachin, Sachin’ in Rajya Sabha
Sachin Tendulkar, the cricket icon, was going to make his maiden speech in the Parliament by initiating a discussion on “the right to play and future of sports in India.” However, the Bharat Ratna winner was blocked from speaking by Congress MPs on an issue which is too often ignored in the Parliament. Tendulkar remained standing, ready to speak, for 10 minutes, with a typical sense of calmness and a smile on his face despite jeers by Congress MPs, until Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu adjourned the house.
Second parliamentary blockade
Soon after it seemed that Parliament was back to business as usual, another thunderbolt struck the house. Anant Kumar Hegde, a BJP MP, was reported saying that the word ‘secular’ should be removed from the Constitution, at a public event in Karnataka. This gave opposition MPs another chance to shout slogans and block normal parliamentary business. On this occasion, TRS members joined in the protests. While the use of the word ‘secular’ in the Constitution is ambiguous and—it may be argued—lacks meaningful context in a non-European society, Hegde was ultimately forced to apologise.
From blockade to efficiency
The Rajya Sabha made history on 2nd January as, for the first time in 15 years, all Zero Hour submissions and all special mentions before the chamber were completed in a day. RS Chairman Naidu thanked all members for their cooperation and expressed the hope that, after two weeks of protests, the house would continue to work productively thereafter.
Swaraj criticises Pakistan
Some controversy was also created by Sushma Swaraj when she criticised Kulbhushan Jadhav in Parliament for meeting with his family in Pakistan, an act which she said lacked ‘humanity’. She went on to say that the manner in which Pakistani authorities forced Kulbhushan Jadhav’s mother and wife to change clothes and take off their jewellery was appalling. While people all over the country praised Sushma Swaraj for taking up the fight against Pakistan, JKLF leader and Kashmiri separatist Yasin Malik wrote an open letter to Sushma Swaraj alleging that Kashmiri separatists are treated in the same manner in Indian jails and asked her to improve their condition.
The Islamic triple talaq
Probably the most important development in the Winter Session was the passing of the landmark bill, which seeks to make the instant triple talaq illegal, with up to three years in jail as punishment, by the Lok Sabha. However, the government, outnumbered in the Rajya Sabha, could not convince the opposition to pass the bill. The Opposition blocked the passage of the bill, claiming that it needed to be amended, while nearly 50 Muslim women looked on from the gallery reserved for guests.
While the BJP said that Congress is being hypocritical for blocking the bill and does not actually want the bill to pass at all, Congress said that it is not against banning the aim of the legislation in principle, but rather it is against the bill drafted by the government. As the session ends, sources claim that the government has agreed to the Opposition’s demand to send the Talaq legislation to a parliamentary committee for review, and so the bill will not be passed until the next session. Despite, if not because of, the many parliamentary delays and controversies, the last Winter Session was full of drama that will not soon be forgotten.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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