How could we oppose the Bill as our governments in some States are successfully running food programmes, asks a senior BJP leader

If the Opposition parties co-operated with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the end to pass the long-pending Food Security Bill in the Lok Sabha, it was because they had little choice, with the government posing it as the ultimate pro-poor measure.

But the fact that the Opposition failed to get even one of its amendments — billed as improvements on the government version — through, or come even close to it, tells another story: it points to both the disarray in the Opposition ranks and the success of the UPA’s parliamentary managers in exploiting the political contradictions among them.

It is therefore useful to take a close look at the 18 times individual MPs from the BJP, the Biju Janata Dal, the CPI, the AIADMK and others demanded division — or actual voting — when they moved their amendments.

The Lok Sabha Secretariat is yet to provide the final numbers, as it cross-checks with individual MPs on each of these 18 votes but those that were announced on Monday on the electronic monitor show that on average, there was a gap of roughly 100 — with a few even exceeding that number substantially — between what the UPA mobilised and what the rest of the House mustered.

And yet after the DMK’s exit earlier this year, the UPA, with its supporting parties that include the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, can actually boast a difference of approximately 40.

Opposition sources told The Hindu that the Janata Dal (United)-20, the DMK-18, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen-1 — and even the Shiv Sena (11) — supported the government more substantially than might have been expected. Of these, the DMK and the AIMIM were till recently members of the UPA, and the JD(U) hopes to forge an alliance with the Congress now that it has broken with the BJP in Bihar.

But what of the Shiv Sena, a member of the BJP-led NDA? Opposition sources said that since Maharashtra did not have the same kind of food programme as in Tamil Nadu or Chhattisgarh, for instance, the party wanted to be seen as pro-actively supporting the Bill.

Indeed, on Monday, some Shiv Sena MPs were seen occasionally thumping their desks when Congress president Sonia Gandhi made her speech.

There is another reason for the gap: for instance, the Trinamool Congress would not vote for any amendment moved by the Left, while the SP was careful not to back any BJP amendment.

Indeed, though SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav, speaking in the Lok Sabha on Monday, wanted all the Chief Ministers consulted before the Bill was passed, even saying that implementing its provisions would impose a huge financial burden on the States, his MPs did not even move their amendments. And, at the time of voting, Mr. Yadav was not even present in the House.

BJP’s internal politics

The voting on the amendments also underscored the BJP’s internal politics. What was most significant, Congress sources said, was that though Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had attempted to “derail” the Bill by releasing his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier in the session, suggesting a series of amendments and stressing that the Centre consult the States before bringing the Bill to Parliament, the BJP allowed the Bill to go through.

So what persuaded the principal Opposition to cooperate with the government?

A senior BJP MP from Gujarat said: “We could not have afforded to be seen as anti-poor.” A senior leader elaborated: “We are running successful food programmes in some of the States we are ruling such as Chhattisgarh. How could we have opposed the Bill? All we could do was to move amendments to improve it.” He was also quick to add that the points that Mr. Modi made in his letter had already been moved as amendments by the BJP.

Now, it remains to be seen whether the BJP will more vigorously mobilise Opposition MPs to get even one of its amendments through in the Rajya Sabha, when it debates the Bill next week. After all, for the UPA, the numbers will be harder to manage in the Upper House.

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