Winter session ends in deep frost

The Winter Session of Parliament began with the thaw of a tea party hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh in the hopes of clearing the Goods and Services Tax Bill (GST), but ended, on Wednesday in the usual recriminations and call for the resignation of Finance Minister Arun Jaitely.

The government termed the Opposition obstructive. “This session has been a victim of a strategy conceived before its commencement which was to see that Parliament is paralysed, come what may,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The Opposition, on its part, called the government arrogant in its approach. “The government has termed the matters on which stalled the House as ‘small’. These are not small issues, anti-Dalit remarks by Ministers, atrocities against them in Punjab and the subversion of the Constitution in Arunachal are big issues. The government’s outreach at the beginning of the session was purely cosmetic and was not backed by any sincere addressal of our concerns,” said Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The underlying reasons for these recriminations were also familiar—the summons to the top leadership of the Congress by a district court in Delhi in the National Herald case at the start of the session more or less put paid to prospects of any détente, leave alone any chance of mustering the numbers required for clearing a Constitutional Amendment like the GST.

A CBI raid on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Principal Secretary’s office ended whatever remnants of hope of a productive session were left as the incident grew larger and led to the doorstep of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

There was some accord in the first week of the session, where both Houses debated the contributions of Constitution framer Dr B.R. Ambedkar, and towards the end of it in Rajya Sabha.

Juvenile Justice Bill

The only time where it looked as though public pressure was exerted on MPs to run the House was during the debate on the Juvenile Justice Bill. Not only did the House run, but pressure meant that the Bill, earlier scheduled to be sent to the select committee was cleared in a day. While parties reacted to public pressure in worrisome ways, it did clarify that the political class would respond to pressure on running the House, only if there was a political cost to be paid for blocking it.

M.R. Madhavan of PRS legislative Research, an organisation that researches legislative and parliamentary work says, “the Juvenile Justice Bill is a classic example where disrupting proceedings of the House will result in a political cost, of falling demonstrably foul of the public mood, hence the reaction. Otherwise, one can put frequent disruption of the House, of even low levels of scrutiny of the government through question hour [only 13% of the allotted time for it was utilised] to the fact that these have no effect on electoral prospects.” Mr. Madhavan fears a danger to the Indian Republic if these disruptions persist.

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