One section of party for calling a special session of Parliament to pass it
Ahead of the UPA’s ninth anniversary on May 22, the Congress would have liked to have showcased the passage of the Food Security Bill as its most recent achievement. But with the Opposition determined not to give the government any positive talking points, preventing even a discussion on the Bill in the recent budget session of Parliament, the Congress is doing its best to ensure that the issue of food security remains in the public domain, even as it discusses possible alternatives to making it a reality.
Indeed, one section feels this is not enough and that the government should seize the “political initiative,” call a special session of Parliament, and pass it—with or without the support of the Opposition.
On Saturday, party spokesperson P.C. Chacko told journalists, even as he highlighted the government’s achievements in the economic and social sector spheres over the last nine years that the government was still trying to achieve a consensus on the Food Security Bill through “informal discussions” with the Opposition, and the continuing attempt to hold a special session of Parliament if an agreement was arrived at.
He, however, stressed that the government was all for a thorough discussion on the subject. The Opposition, Mr Chacko said, “display the least inclination towards passing pro-people bills like the Food Security and Land Acquisition Bills, .. two of the most important bills on the agenda of Parliament”.
Mr. Chacko’s remarks came a day after the Congress Core Group — including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi — thrashed out the options available to the government to push the bill through, from promulgating an ordinance, passing an executive order to calling a special session of Parliament for its passage after Food Minister K.V. Thomas made a presentation before it. Mr. Thomas — and Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal, too — it is learnt, are not keen on taking the ordinance route.
Assembly polls crucial
But some Congress Ministers feel that it is the only option left to the party given that Assembly polls to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi — all key States — are due at the end of this year, and their results could well set the stage for next year’s general elections. However, the Core Group meeting was inconclusive.
The Congress is clearly keeping the food security issue alive: a day after Youth Congress posters appeared in the national capital, challenging the BJP to a debate on the Bill — if it dared — party’s vice-president Rahul Gandhi trained his guns on the principal opposition party in Jaipur: on Thursday, he accused the BJP of creating hurdles in the way of the Bill.
The Congress leadership appears to be divided between those advocating debate and consensus as they say such a significant legislation be debated and passed with near consensus, especially as it has to be implemented by the States, and those who feel that a special session should be called and the food security bill — along with the one on land acquisition — be passed, with or without the backing of the Opposition. Indeed Mr. Thomas, who is opposed to the Bill being implemented through an ordinance or executive order, party sources say, is inclined towards calling a special session for it.
With Ms. Gandhi extremely keen to get the Food Bill through, the Congress leadership is now trying to find a way to get it through.