The NDA government that sailed through the first week of the Winter Session of Parliament came crashing down to earth in the second, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing the heat for the first time since he came to power.
The Opposition has now given the government time until Monday to accept its demand for a resolution censuring Minister of State Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti for her controversial remarks. Failing that, it will continue to stall the House, allowing only the Zero Hour and the Question Hour, to ensure that the government cannot take its ambitious legislative agenda forward.
Official sources told The Hindu that even as the government was trying to negotiate with the Opposition, it is considering suggesting a watered-down version of the Opposition resolution as a via media. The Prime Minister, it is learnt, is upset that his Cabinet colleagues failed to satisfy the Opposition, compelling him to take the floor.
For the Opposition that had been looking for a way to make its presence felt, especially in the Lok Sabha where it is hopelessly outnumbered, Ms. Jyoti’s intemperate election speech here provided a perfect opportunity to corner the government, and seek her resignation.
But the Minister’s apology in both Houses on Tuesday failed to satisfy the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, though their counterparts in the Lok Sabha initially accepted it. Thereafter, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and his deputy, Mukthar Abbas Naqvi, in the Rajya Sabha, also expressed regret, but an adamant Opposition pressed for an apology by the Prime Minister. Finally, on Wednesday, Mr. Modi made his second appearance in the House in the ongoing session — in the Lok Sabha — but did not utter a word. As the situation continued to escalate, the Prime Minister expressed regret in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday and in the Lok Sabha on Friday.
Indeed, the spin the BJP leadership has given to Ms. Jyoti’s communally polarising remarks is that the Opposition’s campaign against her stems from her “subaltern” status as she is an MBC, a Nishad.
This has not cut ice with the Opposition: after the government rejected its proposal to bring a general “Motion of Censure” in the Rajya Sabha condemning “inflammatory speeches,” nine parties — the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Trinamool Congress, the Janata Dal(U), the BSP, the CPI(M), the DMK, the CPI and the NCP — jointly sought a parliamentary resolution. These parties together command a majority in the Rajya Sabha, 139 in the 250-member House.
Of course, the Opposition is still working towards better floor coordination. In the Congress’s case, this week demonstrated that its Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha wings were not in touch with each other — on Tuesday, the Congress in the Lower House accepted Ms. Jyoti’s apology; in the Rajya Sabha, it did not.
Later, on Friday, led by party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Congress MPs, and those of the Trinamool Congress, appeared in Parliament with black bands across their mouths. Earlier, on Thursday, an irate Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, led a walkout from the House, alleging that the microphones of Opposition MPs had been switched off to censor their comments.
The Opposition MPs have also pointed out that the government has begun to spring Bills on the House with just a few hours notice, giving them no time to prepare or give notice for amendments.