In protest, BJP decides to boycott meetings called by Speaker, government

The already strained relations between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the government hit a new low with the principal opposition party announcing that from now on it will not attend any of the meetings convened by the government and the Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar in protest against, what it termed, muzzling the voice of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.

At a specially convened news conference here, Ms. Swaraj accused the UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi of instigating ministers and Congress MPs to scuttle her speech in the Lok Sabha just before Finance Minister P. Chidambaram commended the Finance Bill and other money bills for the House’s approval.

The Lok Sabha Speaker appears to have become the collateral damage as Ms. Swaraj felt Ms. Kumar failed to protect her right to speak, in violation of the commitment made at the all-party meeting on Monday.

The outcome of the confrontation between the Opposition and the government is that the residual budgetary session is now a washout and some of the crucial bills, such as the Food Security Bill and the one on land acquisition, that the government had hoped to get through have become a casualty.

The perception among several Opposition leaders is that the government, for inexplicable reasons, had embarked on the path just before the start of the session, which led to the present situation.

The highly controversial JPC draft report on the 2G scam was like a red rag to a bull. It provoked so much anger against the government that for the first time in the current Lok Sabha parties with conflicting interests, such as the TMC-Left, AIADMK-DMK, the BJP and non-UPA parties, joined hands.

The degree of bitterness between Ms. Swaraj and Ms. Gandhi was evident in the choice of adjectives the former employed against the latter in the context of recent developments. For instance, the BJP leader said the Congress president “doesn’t accept Indian democratic institutions and principles” and made her feel “betrayed.” Describing the relations between UPA and Opposition as a “situation of total breakdown” as “things have crossed all limits,” she blamed the government for it. “I think the countdown of this government has begun.”

At the all-party meeting it was agreed that before her party walks out of the House when the Finance bill is taken up, she would be allowed to speak, Ms. Swaraj claimed before taking on the Speaker.“I was hoping that at least she [the Speaker] will support me, but I was sad to hear her telling me to finish my speech … Today in the House, it was proved that what is decided at all-party meetings is of no use. What happens in Parliament is dictated by what Sonia Gandhi wants.”

Asked if there was a way out of the stalemate, the BJP leader said the ball was in the government’s court. She sounded evasive when asked why her party was not considering a no-confidence motion, and replied that the BJP had not discussed it so far. “But now that you are asking, we will talk about it.”

She castigated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying it was unfortunate “that the highest court of law says there is a massive breach of trust.”

“The conduct of the Prime Minister and the government is responsible for the falling image of the country in the world,” Ms. Swaraj said.

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