Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath will speak to other political parties on the issue
As a prelude to pressing the Opposition to cooperate in the passage of the UPA’s ambitious food security Bill, a meeting of the coordination committee will be held on Monday to craft the alliance’s strategy, even as talk of holding a special session of Parliament once again surfaced. Once the UPA formulates its position, it will make a push to call an all-party meeting to persuade the Opposition, especially the BJP, to come on board on the food law.
This became clear on Saturday after the Congress Core Group discussed a series of critical issues for over three hours at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence.
The other subjects thrashed out were Andhra Pradesh and the continuing Telangana crisis that saw three senior leaders, including two MPs, quitting the party to join the Telangana Rashtra Samiti earlier this week; the fallout of the massacre of the Congress’ top leadership in Chhattisgarh; and the political options available in Jharkhand, where President’s Rule ends on July 18.
Apart from the Core Group members — who include the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi — there were two special invitees, Union Health Minister and party general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh Ghulam Nabi Azad and MoS for Food K.V. Thomas. While Mr. Azad briefed the leaders on the situation in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, in particular, Mr. Thomas spoke about the food security Bill.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde — a member of the Core Group — who was in Chhattisgarh on Friday, gave a detailed account of the security situation there and the measures taken by the government in the aftermath of last Saturday’s carnage. With elections due in the State later this year, the impact of that horrific incident also needed to be assessed. Mr. Shinde later had a separate meeting with Ms. Gandhi.
For the Congress, Jharkhand presents a problem: if initially, after President’s Rule was imposed, the party’s central leadership decided not to make an effort to form an alternative government, more recently under pressure from the State unit and keeping in mind the Lok Sabha polls, it was veering round to the view that it should perhaps try and form a government with the help of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Indeed, at the UPA’s ninth anniversary celebrations, a JMM MP was even invited to the festivities and seated at Ms. Gandhi’s table.
But now casting a shadow over these efforts is the fact that the CBI has sought sanction from Jharkhand Governor Syed Ahmed to prosecute eight MLAs alleged to have been involved in malpractice in the March 2012 Rajya Sabha elections. With these legislators including Independents and those from the Congress, the JMM and the RJD — the potential alliance the Congress was hoping to stitch together to form the government – in trouble, the party may now be reduced to once again calling for a fresh election or trying to extend President’s Rule for another six months.
Gauging political mood
As for Andhra Pradesh, a day after Ms. Gandhi met Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, Mr. Azad and her political secretary, Ahmed Patel, the matter came up before the Core Group. Party sources said the Congress might announce some decision on the issue after the end of the Assembly session, whose second phase begins on June 10: the objective is to sense the political mood and the impact of the departure of senior Congress leader K. Kesava Rao, and MPs M. Jagannath and G. Vivekanand for the TRS, as well as the state of the Jagan Reddy-led YSR Congress.
Monday’s UPA meeting will see the Congress leadership emphasising to its allies the need to pass the food security and the land acquisition Bills which it wants to showcase in the next Lok Sabha elections.
At the Core Group meeting, it was also decided, that Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath should speak to other parties to try and persuade them to agree to a special session to take up the food Bill, sources said. If that effort fails, the ordinance route — one the Congress is not keen on, given the number of amendments the Cabinet has introduced after it was cleared by the parliamentary standing committee — may be the only option available.