Confrontation between the government and the Opposition on the very first day of the Budget session of Parliament on Monday on how to go about discussing prices could see a stalled Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
The Opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party has made the demand that a discussion on prices be taken up on the basis of an adjournment motion it plans to submit along with other Opposition parties, but the government is willing to accommodate the Opposition only to the extent of agreeing to the debate but under the rule governing short duration discussions.
Politically, it was clear the Opposition wants to make the point that it has stalled the Lok Sabha on the issue of prices and was thus cornering the government inside and outside the House. The Left parties have already announced plans for a major rally on March 12 and the BJP’s show on the same subject will be on April 21.
At a meeting, the government and the Opposition came to an understanding on how the issue will play out in the Rajya Sabha. The Opposition there will demand suspension of question hour, which will be resisted by the chair and the government. The matter will then be decided by the will of the House in favour of suspension. A discussion on prices will then start.
The government, it seems, offered a similar formula for the Lok Sabha. It offered to suspend question hour, although it did not wish to set this precedent. It also offered, against convention, not to immediately move the motion of thanks to the President after her address to the joint sitting on Monday. Instead, a short duration discussion lasting the full day could be taken up on prices, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal later told reporters in response to questions.
The Opposition’s response was perhaps summed up by Deputy Leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde, who said: “Either the government discusses prices as an adjournment motion or we stall the proceedings.” That warning came loud and clear from the camp of the Left parties too. Gurudas Dasgupta (Community Party of India) said the subject was most urgent and pressing and must be discussed as an adjournment motion. He indicated that besides the BJP, the Left party leaders would also be giving notice for adjournment motions.
Mr. Bansal made it clear that although it was the chair’s privilege to allow or not to allow a motion, an adjournment motion on prices would not be in order. The government had tried to accommodate the Opposition, was willing to discuss the issue, but would not be “blackmailed”. If the Opposition wanted to disrupt the House at any cost, it would have to explain that to the people.
The Minister said the reference to “urgent” public matter in the rules for an adjournment motion had a technical meaning that the rules explain. It had to be about a major event that had occurred very recently. The Opposition had said prices had been going up for six years, so how could this be described as a recent event?
It seems even within the BJP there was more than one view on whether Lok Sabha ought to be stalled or not. Two days ago, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj told The Hindu that the Opposition would stall the House only if the government were not to agree for a debate on prices on February 23. It would then bring an adjournment motion. On Monday, after the government agreed to the debate, Mr. Munde thundered: “adjournment motion or we will not allow the House to run.”