Congress divided on support to Insurance Bill

The Congress is divided on whether it should support the contentious Insurance Bill in the ongoing winter session of Parliament: a growing section in the party’s parliamentary wing has in internal discussions, senior Congress sources confirmed, expressed the view that it should push the passage of the Bill to the budget session next year, “make the government sweat a bit”, as one MP put it graphically.

So, though the Congress is on board on the contentious Bill, especially after amendments made by its representatives in the Select Committee examining the proposed legislation were accepted, there is a sense that there is no need to demonstrate any eagerness to support the government on the Bill in this current session, as that would only help the ruling BJP politically, demonstrating to U.S. President Barack Obama, when he is here next month for Republic Day, that the Modi government is capable of pushing through economic reforms the previous Manmohan Singh government failed to do. If the UPA government was unable to push through the Insurance Bill in its time, it was because the BJP did not cooperate with it.

This came on a day when the Union Cabinet cleared the Rajya Sabha Select Committee’s report on the Insurance Bill that it, tentatively, hopes to bring to the Rajya Sabha next Monday.

Indeed, in the wake of nine non-NDA parties — including the Congress — in the Rajya Sabha successfully uniting on the Niranjan Jyoti issue, sections of the former ruling party are urging its leadership the need to flex its muscles. Indeed, the non-Congress opposition parties, who are opposing the Insurance Bill have also appealed to the party to postpone its support to the Bill to maximise the fact that the NDA is in a minority in the RS.

A hint of the Congress’s ambivalence was provided on Wednesday when at the party’s official briefing, spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi saying “The devil is in the detail”, stressed that the party would finalise its position on the Insurance Bill only after it is introduced. “How can we issue a blank cheque without seeing what is in the Bill,” he said, even though he acknowledged that much of the Congress concerns had been met. ``That itself is a huge victory,” he added.

Simultaneously, even though the Congress didn’t oppose the introduction in the Lok Sabha of The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill 2014 that seeks to replace the ordinance that unveiled the NDA government's ambitious coal sector reforms, the growing view in the party is that it wants the draft legislation to be sent to a Standing Committee. On Wednesday, the Bill was introduced by Union Power minister Piyush Goyal in the LS, amidst vociferous objections from the Trinamool Congress and the Left Parties. The Trinamool’s Saugata Roy said it was aimed at de-nationalisation of coal mines (that were nationalised in 1973) and would lead to “total exploitation” of the mines and the people of the country.

While a majority of the non-NDA opposition is united on issues such as secularism, the one critical area in which parties belonging to the Janata Parivar and the Left Parties, differ with the Congress is on economic issues.