Both — Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha — were adjourned for the day on Tuesday after the Opposition, for the fifth consecutive day stalled Parliament proceedings over the issue of demonetisation.
Earlier in the day, at the BJP parliamentary party meet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "demonetisation is not the end but the beginning of a long, deep and constant battle against black money and corruption and will benefit the poor and the common man", as the party passed a unanimous resolution endorsing the prime minister's "great crusade". As the party members gave a standing ovation to Modi, the scene at both the Houses was quite the opposite.
Speaking at the first meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Party in the Winter Session, Modi said the poor and the lower and middle classes have suffered the most due to black money, fake currency and corruption and his government is working to rid the country of these evils and make the economy stronger. Modi turned emotional for a while as he spoke about his commitment to the poor's welfare.
The resolution said the demonetisation move had people's support, claiming it was "the most profound statement to have ever come from the country". Rallying around the prime minister at a time when opposition parties have united to corner the government over the measure citing hardships being faced by the masses, party MPs passed a unanimous resolution supporting demonetisation and gave him a standing ovation.
Hitting out at the rival parties, the resolution asked them to decide whether they stand by the people of India and the government or hoarders of black money. While hailing PM's "great crusade" against corruption, it accused the opposition of trying to provoke violence and chaos and disrupt Parliament, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters.
"We have come to power not for us or those close to us but for the poor. For 70 years, the poor and the lower and middle classes suffered and have been exploited by black money, corruption and terrorism. Our aim is a deep, long and constant struggle against them. "This is not the end but only a beginning of our struggle," the Prime Minister said and cited measures like setting up of a SIT on black money and Income Disclosure Scheme, 2016.
Rajya Sabha was adjourned four times — in a matter of three hours — and over one issue. Demonetisation.
The rare unity in Opposition parties brought Congress and Trinamool Congress as well as Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) together as their slogan-shouting members trooped into the Well of the House, even as treasury benches countered them demanding resumption of the debate on the issue.
Opposition parties demanded Rs 10 lakh compensation to the kin of each of the 70 persons who lost their lives post-demonetisation and the presence of Modi during the debate on the issue.
Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien first adjourned the House till 11.30 am, then till noon and then till 2 pm. Rajya Sabha resumed proceedings only for Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari to adjourn it again for the day. The Upper House will meet on Wednesday 11 am.
No sooner were the listed papers laid on the table, Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said the government should pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of the 70 persons who lost their lives due to hardships caused by the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 rupee notes. Naresh Agarwal (SP) and Mayawati (BSP) said Modi should be called before starting the discussion on demonetisation.
"He should come and listen to the pain people have faced because of his decision," Mayawati said. Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress) said the opposition is ready for discussion on the issue but Prime Minister should come to the House first. As he spoke, members of the BJP moved into the aisles raising slogans.
At this point, TMC members carrying placards of "Financial Emergency" trooped into the Well, with Congress members following suit. As they shouted slogans from the Well, Kurien said, "You cannot speak in the Well. Shouting in the Well is of no use. If you go back to your seats, I will give you time (to speak)." He told Azad that he was ready to accept his notice under rule 267 seeking suspension of business. "Mr Azad, I am ready to admit your notice under 267 if only there is order in the House."
As BJP members also created a ruckus, an angry Kurien snapped at them. "Why should treasury benches do this? Mr Minister, why should treasury benches to this," he asked Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. With the pandemonium continuing, he said this was "blatant indiscipline." "Both sides do not want discussion. Not only the opposition but treasury benches are also disrupting the proceedings. That is very unfortunate," he said before adjourning the proceedings till 11.30 am.
The uproar continued when the House met again at 2 pm with the opposition insisting on its demand that Modi should be present for the discussion on demonetisation.
Kurien wanted the resumption of the debate on demonetisation and called out the names of SP leader Naresh Aggarwal and TMC leader Derek O'Brien to speak on it but both were not present in the House. He then called out the name of CPM leader TK Rangarajan, who said he is willing to speak but wanted Modi to be present.
An angry Kurien retorted, "I cannot bring Prime Minister to the House. It is not my job...I can request Finance Minister..." Kurien, then adjourned the House till Wednesday, less than five minutes after 2 pm.
Opposition ranks in Lok Sabha were boosted with AIADMK members joining them in their noisy protest on demonetisation, as the government vehemently resisted their demands, including a debate under a rule which entails voting, forcing the House to adjourn for the day. Amid noisy Opposition protests in the Well which continued right from the start, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar insisted that the government was willing to debate every aspect of the issue and went on to cite BJP's win in the bypolls in Madhya Pradesh and Assam to claim that people have endorsed the government's decision against black money and corruption.
Opposition parties like Trinamool Congress and CPM too have won in the bypolls in West Bengal and Tripura, ruled by them. Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and TMC's Sudip Bandhopadhyay said they wanted a debate but demanded prime minister's presence and that the Speaker admit their adjournment motion, which will result in the division of votes and passage of a resolution, on demonetisation.
They received a shot in the arm when AIADMK's P Venugopal spoke about "suffering of people" due to shortage of currency notes and said his party had also given an adjournment notice. Opposition parties cheered as he spoke. AIADMK is perceived to be more sympathetic to the treasury benches on many issues.
"Government is willing to start a debate. I don't think that the opposition parties are in support of black money, fake currency and terrorism when the whole country is supporting the Modi government over its decision," Kumar said. Kharge said they too were ready for a debate but wanted Modi's presence and that their adjournment notice be admitted.
Equating Speaker Sumitra Mahajan with a mother, he said she should hear them to which she retorted that a mother would want all her children to live together happily. Like previous days, Opposition members trooped into the Well and began protesting as soon as the House met at 11.00 am.
The Speaker carried out most of the Question Hour amid noisy scenes before adjourning the House briefly till noon. After laying of the listed papers, she adjourned the House till Wednesday as Opposition parties remain unrelenting.
Members of Congress, TMC, Left parties, SP and AAP were demanding discussion on the demonetisation of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 under Rule 56, that entails voting. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was seen in his seat having an intimate discussion with AAP MP from Punjab Harinder Singh Khalsa.
Row over PM Modi not addressing the House
Modi's absence in both the Houses of Parliament was at the heart of Opposition's protest. As BJP slammed the Opposition for stalling Parliamentary proceedings for the fifth consecutive day, Opposition stood united and demanded that Modi should address the issue of demonetisation and the deaths related to it. The prime minister did not make an appearance in either of the Houses, but senior leaders of BJP slammed Congress and other national parties protesting, and said that the Opposition is just shifting their goalpost and their only motive is to stall Parliament proceedings.
Attacking the Congress, Union Minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "Today they want PM Modi to address Parliament, tomorrow they will be demand a JPC on the demonetisation issue. Trust me, the opposition is just shifting the goalpost. Why are they running away from a debate? Why do they just want prime minister to speak, is the finance minister not competent enough to reply to their questions?" asked Prasad.
Opposition wasn't too far behind with their response. Speaking to press outside Parliament, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi wondered if Modi could speak over demonetisation on different platforms and at a pop concert, what was stopping him to speak in Parliament.
— ANI (@ANI_news) November 22, 2016
According to political experts, Modi, most likely, will not address MPs in either of the Houses and the reason is BJP does not want to look vulnerable. Discussing the issue on CNN-News18, senior editor Bhupendra Chaubey said that the BJP will be on a back foot if the prime minister appeared to address the demonetisation issue now — especially with the scheme still in process. Queues in front of banks and ATMs are shorter than they were last week, but the system is still not in place.
ATMs are non-functional and there are still glitches in the system. It will probably be in BJP's best interest to hang in till the ground situation is under control.
Winter Session headed towards a washout
The British Parliament prides itself in not wasting a single session. Its Indian counterpart does the exact opposite: it doesn’t utilise a single session. Winter Session of Parliament 2016 is no better than its predecessor. The Winter Session of 2015 was a total bust: Those who had expected a thaw in the relations between the government and the opposition were proved wrong; the dark clouds of the Monsoon Session got murkier. The Opposition, led by the Congress, did not let the government function.
The BJP lacked the political precision to thwart the rivals. Result: This session witnessed the lowest number of bills being passed since the Winter Session of 2010.
Even though the current Session has only just begun (16 November) but the five days that it was supposed to do business, all they did was raise slogans and not table any of the bills that they were supposed to. While we mull over the time our MPs and legislators waste slinging mud at each other during a Session, it is also paramount to remember that the legislators argue and counter-argue at the cost of the exchequer and eventually taxpayer. As of 2012, each minute of running Parliament during sessions costs the exchequer Rs 2.5 lakh.
Like this article of Firstpost argues, the lack of debate in Parliament causes a much bigger harm than just a few thousand crores of rupees. From important policies on education to public health facilities, infrastructure sectors, justice delivery system, everything is broken.
Image courtesy: PRS Legislative