New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday made a fresh pitch for passage of GST and other legislations in the Rajya Sabha considering the "conducive atmosphere" that has been prevailing in Parliament this session with cooperation from the opposition.
Like in the Lok Sabha last week, he was both conciliatory and mocking towards the Opposition, particularly Congress, during his hour-long reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President's address in the Upper House.
Referring to some 300 amendments that have been tabled to the motion of thanks, Modi appealed to the parties to withdraw them and passed the motion unanimously to ensure dignity of the President's office and in keeping with the high traditions of the House.
However, despite his appeal, the government suffered an embarrassment when the House adopted the Motion of Thanks to President's Address with an amendment moved by Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad in a division in which 94 voted for the amendment and 61 against.
The amendment regretted that the address did not commit support to rights of all citizens to contest Panchayat elections in the backdrop of law in Rajasthan and Haryana where matriculation has been fixed as the criteria for contesting the polls.
During his speech, Modi invoked late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's words to say that Rajya Sabha is a chamber of ideas and there was need for coordination between it and the Lok Sabha because both of them are part of a structure.
"I hope we give importance to Pandit Nehru's thinking and I hope all pending bills are passed in this session," he said amid thumping of desks by the treasury benches.
The government has been having difficulties in getting through with its legislations, especially the crucial Goods and Services Tax bill, because of the lack of majority in the Upper House.
Adopting a conciliatory approach, the Prime Minister referred to the President's address in which the President appealed to the members to ensure smooth functioning of the Parliament and not allow disruption.
"We have been running Parliament this session smoothly for this I would thank the opposition for carrying forward President's message. The impact of the President's message is a matter of pride for us," he said.
Pointing to the smooth functioning of the Houses this session, Modi said the Lok Sabha sat till midnight on Tuesday night and the Rajya Sabha had a late sitting a couple of days ago.
"Even after the late sittings, the members were enthusiastic and excited. Because, after a long time, they got an opportunity to express themselves in Parliament and to put through their views across.
"The Question Hour is a good opportunity for members to keep the government, ministers and the executive on a tight leash and ensure accountability which is greatest strength of democracy," he said.
Modi said in the past session, out of 169 starred questions, only seven were taken up while 42 hours were wasted because of disruptions.
In the session before that, only six questions were taken up and 72 hours were lost in disruptions.
"Now, ministers and officials are forced to make preparations for replying in Parliament. This is the strength of democracy. No words are enough to thank...," he said.
The Prime Minister told the Congress that it was in power for long and that the NDA has got the opportunity now.
"Development in fits and starts is not enough. Such an approach will leave us far behind. We need to move from incremental to quantum jump," he said.
The Prime Minister mocked the Congress for claiming ownership to the programmes of his dispensation.
In his reply, Modi pressed the need for cooperation between Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, considering the fact that many of the bills passed by the Lower House have got stuck in the Upper House.
"This is the Upper House. When great people move, others follow them... Whatever happens in this House (Rajya Sabha), its impact is felt on Lok Sabha, Assemblies and Municipal Corporations. So we should think how to create an atmosphere by which democracy can be strengthened," he said.
Modi mentioned GST and said there are many bills like this which are pending in the Rajya Sabha.
"The Peoples' Representatives (Lok Sabha) have endorsed (bills) but Representatives of the States (Rajya Sabha) have not," Modi said.
He then invoked first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to pitch for coordination between the two Houses.
"If there is no coordination and cooperation, then difficulties will increase. Nehruji had this concern.... Hope we pay attention to Nehruji's concerns and clear all pending bills. There is a good atmosphere...By passage of the bills, the country will get momentum."
Modi said the opposition was welcome in criticising and finding faults, if any, in the implementation of initiatives taken by his government as he listed a number of programmes, including for farmers, youth and other sections of the society.
At the same time, he targeted Congress for claiming ownership to the schemes of his government by quoting Indira Gandhi as saying "There are two kinds of people in the world -- one who works and another who takes credit for it...You try to belong to the first category because there is little competition in it. This has been said by Indiraji."
The Prime Minister told Congress benches that they had got a chance for long to enjoy power and it was now BJP-led coalition's turn to work for the country.
While noting that all governments have made some contribution, the Prime Minister said, "if we work with the attitude of 'hota hai, chalta hai', it will take a long time for the development of a big country like India. We need to apply full force."
The Prime Minister, in his speech, referred to the qualification criteria fixed in BJP-ruled Rajasthan and Haryana for those contesting Panchayat polls and said it has been approved by the Supreme Court but attempts are being made to give it a "political colour".
"There can be difference of opinion...Some say what about those who remained illiterate," he said, and went on to target Congress, saying the reason for 'illiteracy' was the policies followed by its government after Independence.
"We want to bring any qualitative change but it is being politicised," Modi said, daring Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad to give 33 per cent tickets to totally illiterate people to contest the upcoming Assembly elections in the five states to demonstrate Congress' commitment in this regard.
Congress member Mani Shankar Aiyar intercepted to say that the Prime Minister has no idea how much illiteracy has increased since Independence and he is insulting the nation by his remarks.
Modi, however, was sarcastically dismissive of his comments, terming these as 'bhule bisre geet' (old songs) sung by someone whose membership is coming to an end.
While targeting Congress, Modi likened it to 'death', saying the party never gets any blame.
"Death has a blessing. It never gets blamed for anything. If somebody dies, the blame goes to reasons like cancer, age.. Death itself is never blamed or defamed.
"Sometimes I feel that Congress has this blessing. If we criticise Congress, the media terms it as 'attack on opposition' but not an attack on Congress. However, if we attack (JD-U leader) Sharad ji (Yadav) or BSP, then it said it is an attack on JD-U or BSP.
"Congress never gets the blame....It needs to be pondered upon as this is in itself a big science," he said.
Taking a dig at Azad for referring to alleged fault lines in Jan Dhan Yojana, Modi said that he was trying to find fault with a microscope.
"I thank Ghulam Nabi Azad ji. This is what Opposition should do. He got the recording done of what is lacking in Jandhan in Bhopal. Whatever the facts be, I appreciate the effort. It shows the Opposition is vigilant.
"Had you worked so hard while in in government, there would have been no need for Modi to do Jandhan. You went out with a microscope to see where we were lacking. Had you earlier worked with binoculars, this work would not have been left for Modi," he said sarcastically.
Contending that his government's focus is on good governance and transparency, the Prime Minister referred to the scams in coal blocks and 2G spectrum allocation during the UPA regime.
"What was the climate before our government came? All round corruption and nepotism had gripped the country. Right or wrong, the trust had gone down. The country's image had taken a beating abroad as well," he said claiming that his government was a policy driven one.
Listing the initiatives of the government on allocation of mines, spectrum and FM bandwidth, Modi also referred to a write up in Forbes magazine, which lauded the way natural resources are being auctioned in India.
"This is the way matters should be handled," the Prime Minister said quoting from the magazine as he reminded Congress of the controversies surrounding the allocation of coal mines during the UPA.
The Prime Minister said coal allocation has fetched over Rs 3 lakh crore, spectrum allocation around Rs 1 lakh crore while the auction on going for six other minerals could fetch Rs 18,000 crore.
Modi also said that over 300 projects worth Rs 15 lakh crore that were pending at various levels have been cleared by his government.
The Prime Minister, who has often been criticised by the Opposition for "centralising" all powers in his hands, spoke at length on how his government decentralised powers.
"The third big aspect of good governance is decentralisation. It is such a big country that you cannot run through centralisation. The more you decentralise the better it will work," Modi said amid counter slogans from the Opposition benches, which shouted "one-man show".
The Prime Minister also made a veiled reference to alleged corruption in environmental clearances when Jayanthi Natarajan was environment minister in UPA without naming her.
"Government has taken many steps towards decentralisation," he said disapproving of the tendency to concentrate all powers in Delhi.
"We all know what all was talked about then. Everyone knows that," he said adding that his government also increased the rights of states in granting permissions for sand mining.
Digvijay Singh (Congress), however, countered it saying sand mining has been a state subject. Hitting out at the Congress for claiming ownership of his government's schemes, the Prime Minister said that it can also take credit for the Ganga cleaning programme, which was initiated during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure.
"When we talk about Ganga cleaning, it is but natural that you will say you started it. I accept it. Rajiv Gandhi started it but then I wonder why it is still dirty after 30 years," he said.
"We never claim anything. It is all your contribution. You have ruled the country for 60 years," Modi added.
Urging the members to help the country move forward and help double the farmers' income by 2020, Modi said, "I am not an economist like Dr Manmohan Singh. I do not possess that big knowledge, but we work in the right direction. We can achieve that."
Making a pro-farmer pitch, Modi, whose government has been criticised as pro-rich by the Opposition, listed various measures taken in the last two years for the welfare of farmers.
He also quoted noted farm scientist MS Swaminathan, who had stated that a "dawn of a new era in farming is in sight".
Claiming that his government's focus on value addition in farm sector will help the agriculturists double their income.
"An e-portal on farming, whereby farmers can sell their produce on line anywhere in the country will be launched on 14 April, the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar.
The Prime Minister also answered to the criticism of CPM leader Sitharam Yechury and took a dig at him for supporting the UPA-I government led by Congress. He also wondered from where did the CPI-M leader get his figures, which he could not find anywhere.
He said that the Left parties, who oppose the capitalists, should be the first ones to back the government on the Clean India Initiative on which even the media is supportive.
Modi ended his speech with a poem by Urdu poet Nida Fazli ending with the lines "tum bhi badal sako to...", an apparent taunt to the Opposition,
especially the Congress, to change.
After the Prime Minister's reply, members tried to seek clarifications but Chairman Hamid Ansari refused it saying it will then be an endless debate.
While Modi left soon after his speech, many members who had tabled amendments to the thanks motion, withdrew them but Azad insisted that he will not withdraw it.
His amendment was adopted after an hour-long debate over its validity and the right of the House to move such an amendment.
Objecting to the move, Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said "federalism will go for a six" as Rajya Sabha does not have powers to pass resolutions against state legislatures which also, in turn, can pass such resolutions.
He also said it is not in the jurisdiction of this House to discuss any matter covered by state legislatures.
This was objected to by Azad and other opposition members including Yechury, who claimed that it was well within the right of the House to pass it as it was only a concern expressed by members.
Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien, who was in the Chair, gave a ruling after claims and counter-claims from both sides, and said, "This is only a concern of members. There is also a valid explanation why these things be not there. There is no harm in putting it to vote."