Extraordinary Session amidst Extraordinary Times

    28-Sep-2020   
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Whatever may be the narrative of naysayers, India has shown a new level of commitment to parliamentary democracy by conducting session amidst CoVid-19 crisis. Not only, all the protocols were followed, landmark bills are passed by both the houses of the Parliament to take the process of reforms at the new level
 
 
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The Parliament Session was convened on
Septmber 14 amidst corona crisis, following all the health related protocols
 
The monsoon session of Parliament was convened this year under extraordinary circumstances and with extraordinary preparation. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) due to Corona crisis was enforced strictly. Members from each House are to sit across both the Houses and also in the galleries. But when it comes to playing back to galleries; the Neta class has no comparison. And thus, the opposition lawmakers in the Rajya Sabha specially proved this doctrine right. On September 21, eight opposition MPs belonging to Congress, Trinamool Congress, AAP and CPI (M) were suspended for their unruly behaviour and showing disrespect to the chair.
 
A day before, a well informed lawmaker and floor leader of Trinamool Congress, Derek O’ Brien tore up the Rule Book and hurled it towards Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Harivansh Narayan Singh.
 
Nevertheless the historical agrarian Bills were passed by both the Houses.
 
The Akali Compulsion
 
Of course, the Lok Sabha witnessed high drama on September 17 when Union Food Processing Industry Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal opposed the farm laws and quit the cabinet. The draft laws in debate were - The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.
 
Of course, all is not yet lost between Akalis and the BJP though it was the first rebellion within union cabinet since 2014. In 2018, two TDP ministers had quit the Modi government but it was more guided by the politics of Andhra Pradesh.
 
Of course Ms Badals resignation is also triggered by local politics and peasantry one-upmanship of Punjab. The Akali leadership was almost trapped by Congress and was forced to announce Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s resignation.
 
Defence minister Rajnath Singh summed it up well when he said resignation of a minister is often guided by various factors. “There are some political reasons behind every such decision. I don’t want to comment on why she took this decision,” Rajnath told reporters.
 
Was he playing down the Akali revolt or was he suggesting something deep?
 
Whatever be the reason, there is a theory in circulation that the BJP could be possibly thinking about a political life in Punjab without Badals. This argument gains currency when it is pointed out that the Modi government had awarded dissident Akali veteran S S Dhindsa with Padma Bhushan in 2019; and Badals were not aware of the centre’s intent. Local BJP leaders in Punjab were also trying to reach out to another Akali deserter – R S Brahmpura.
 
Passage of key Bills:
  • On the legislative front, the government has ensured passage of important Bills.
  • Some crucial draft laws those were given mandatory Parliamentary nod or debated and passed in either of the Houses were ---- the likes of - The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill, and the FCRA Bill.
  • Lok Sabha also passed The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill.
  • On Sept 23, Parliament passed three key labour reform Bills that will remove impediments to winding up of companies and allow firing of staff without government permission in firms with up to 300 workers from the existing 100. This move is expected to attract more investments and job creation.
Unruly Behaviour and Suspension
 
In fact, Rajya Sabha session was cut short on September 23 but not before seven Bills get nod in four hours. Opposition members stayed away from the proceedings to protest suspension of eight of their colleagues. The suspended Opposition members are Derek O Brien and Dola Sen (both Trinamool), Rajiv Satav, Syed Naseer Hussain and Ripun Bora (all three Congress), K K Ragesh and Elamaram Karim (both CPI-M) and Aam Aadmi Party's Sanjay Singh.
 
In a letter to Chairman, M Venkaiah Naidu, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh said later: “I am in pain, distress, and in mental agony due to whatever happened on September 20 in the Rajya Sabha. In the name of democracy, violent behaviour was shown by honourable Members from the Opposition. This is brazen violation and tradition of the Upper House".
 
"The rule book was torn and thrown at me. Some MPs also stood on the table”,
 
NGO Business and Transparency
 
Important discussions took place on the year's hottest topic Covid19 and of course the FCRA bill that would impose some restrictions on funds flow into the NGOs from overseas.
 
 
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The Bill was vehemently opposed. In Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said - "This Bill will crush dissent and confine unnecessary power in the hands of the (central) government.”
 
His party colleague, Manish Tewari said - "The FCRA provisions need to be relaxed rather than made stringent”.
 
The government has defended the legislative measure saying, the new law is not to suppress anyone. Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai said - “We only take action against any organisation under the rule when they do not follow the law”.
 
The Minister assured that amendment in the law is “not against any NGO as well as any religion”. “FCRA is a national internal security law…This amendment is necessary for Aatmanirbhar Bharat”.
 
Outside Parliament, BJP general secretary (Organisation) B L Santhosh said - "FCRA Bill will have a far reaching effect on the way NGOs are run in this country. No more service for gains ... It has to be Seva for society".
 
Clarity on Stand-Off
 
The Monsoon session also came close on the heels of raging conflict between Indian and Chinese forces along the border.
 
Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, thus made important statements on conflict with China and how Indian soldiers have successfully taken the battle into the enemy camp.
 

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The New Low - Papers thrown, Mic broken by some opposition
members to disrupt the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha on September 20, 2020
 
In Rajya Sabha yet again answering to an observation from one of his predecessors, A K Antony; the incumbent minister (Rajnath) said “no power on earth can prevent Indian forces from patrolling the border”.
 
Of course, despite several meetings between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the relationship is not normal between two Asian giants.
 
But both sides have kept the channel of communication on and formal parleys at diplomatic and military levels are being held. Such a deliberation took place on September 21 itself.
 
In Parliament, of course to a pointed question from Trimamool MP, Saugata Roy, the government has specifically denied that relations with China and other neighbouring countries have deteriorated.
 
India also sounded its displeasure to China over media reports that a Chinese company was indulging in snooping and data mining practices against prominent India politicians including Prime Minister Modi and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
 
"Our Embassy in Beijing also raised it with the Foreign Ministry of China. The Chinese side conveyed that 'Shenzen Zhenhua' is a private company and had stated its position publicly," External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar informed Congress MP, K C Venugopal.
 
Reports in a section of western media said the Chinese company is allegedly involved in such data collection since 2017 to help provide 'intelligence' to Chinese military, government and commercial clients.
 
The issue was raised in Upper House during Zero Hour by Venugopal and his party colleague Rajiv Satav on September 16.
 
Drugs and Bollywood:
 
The alleged drug menace in Mumbai’s film world also figured prominently and later the battle of wits was bound to reach the social media and television channels.
 
"Just because there are few people (allegedly involved in drugs), you cannot tarnish the entire industry," actress-turned-lawmaker Jaya Bachchan (Samajwadi Party) sparked off row by her remarks in the Rajya Sabha. She also said: "At a time when the financial situation is in a depressing stage and the employment is at the worst level, in order to divert the attention of the people, we are being used to be flogged at the social media and there is no support (for the film industry) from the government".
 
She was critical of BJP MP Ravi Kishan's remarks in the Lok Sabha on Sept 14 – the first day of the session - on the drug cartel and how the Narcotics Control Bureau probe has intensified.
 
Jaya flayed Gorakhpur MP saying - "Jis thali mein khaten haen...."
 

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In Lok Sabha, during zero hour on the first day of the session, BJP MP and actor-turned-politician Ravi Kishan has said: "The problem of drug trafficking and addiction is on a rise. I regret to say there is a conspiracy behind pushing drug menace in India. Smuggling of drugs is being done from Pakistan and China. These are brought via Punjab and Nepal.
 
"Iska addiction film industry mein bhi kara dia (The film industry has fallen victim to this drug menace", he said.
 
Countering Jaya Bachchan, vocal film star Kangana Ranaut, who had earlier spoken about the drugs in the entertainment industry, hit out at the veteran actress (Jaya Bachchan) rather strongly and even dragged her two children (actor son Abhishek and daughter Shweta) into the debate.
 
Interesting debates took place in Lok Sabha on PM Cares Fund wherein BJP MP and Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur said the real face of Congress should be exposed. He alleged that in 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru had floated PM National Relief Fund and had provisions for ‘Congress president’ to be a director. He said the Fund was never ‘registered’ following rules but FCRA clearance was given.
 
During the debate, Adhir Chowdhury (Congress) angrily even went onto call Anurag Thakur a’ Himachal ka Chhokra’ – a reference which was strongly objected to by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.