Budget Session: In RS, Modi asks farmers to end stir; LS logjam ends after Rajnath urges Opposition to 'not let traditions break down'
The Rajya Sabha passed The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to replace the ordinance to merge the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) cadre of civil services officer with the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram Union Territory cadre
The sixth day of the Budget Session of Parliament saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealing for protesting farmers to call off their over two-month stir, while assuring them that the Minimum Support Price System will continue.
Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha returned to normal functioning on Monday after a week-long disruption over the Centre's farm laws following an appeal from defence minister Rajnath Singh.
Replying to a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the Motion of Thanks to the President, Modi sought to target the Opposition for its U-turn on the agriculture sector reforms by quoting his predecessor Manmohan Singh and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar.
He also alleged that some people are trying to defame Sikhs and said that the nation should guard against the "andolan jeevi", a new "breed" of agitators which has emerged in the country and who cannot live without agitation.
Responding to Modi's remarks, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait said farmers will not allow "business over hunger" and once again put forth the demand for a law on MSP.
Thousands of farmers have been camping at Delhi's borders since November demanding the repeal of three new agriculture laws that they say will end the minimum support price (MSP) based procurement of crops like wheat and paddy by the government and usher in big corporates into the farm sector.
They have rejected the government's offer to suspend the reforms for 18 months and have not joined talks after 11 rounds of talks ended last month.
The issue of the farmers agitation figured in the Lok Sabha as well, which began normal functioning after seeing repeated adjournments last week over the farm laws.
During the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the president for his speech at the beginning of the Session, Congress' Adhir Ranjan Chouwdhury flayed the government for its handling of the farmers protest and some Opposition members reiterated their demand for the roll back of the laws.
Opposition members also targetted the government over various other issues such as the response to international comments on farmers' protest and the purported WhatsApp chats concerning the Balakot air strike.
The Lok Sabha sitting was extended till midnight.
Replying to a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on a motion thanking the President for his address to Parliament at the start of the current Budget Session, Modi slammed those abusing protesting Sikh farmers, saying it will not do the country any good.
Modi further appealed to the protesting farmers to call off their over two-month-long stir, assuring them of continuing with the purchase of crops at an administered price or MSP.
"Give the agriculture reforms a chance," he said.
In an apparent reference to tweets by pop star Rihanna and Swedish climate-activist Greta Thunberg favouring the agitating farmers, Modi played on the term 'Foreign Direct Investment or FDI' to warn against deleterious influences from abroad.
He also hit out at some of the protestors, saying a new crop of agitators has emerged in India who cannot live without agitation and the country should be beware of them.
He also pointed to statements made by his predecessor Manmohan Singh and former agriculture minister and Maratha leader Sharad Pawar to attack Opposition parties as having done a 'U-turn' on their own words.
In an oblique reference to agitating Sikhs being called 'Khalistani' terrorists and other names, the prime minister said, "India is very proud of the contribution of Sikhs. This is a community that has done so much for the nation. The words and blessings of the Guru Sahibs are precious," he said. "Language used by some for them and attempt to mislead them will never benefit the nation."
"We mustn't forget what happened with Punjab. It suffered the most during the Partition. It cried the most during the 1984 riots. They became victims of the most painful incidents. Innocents were killed in Jammu and Kashmir. And the business of weapons was carried out in the northeast. All this affected the nation," he said.
These laws, he said, address the root cause of the agrarian problem and are aimed at helping small farmers but indicated that the government was open to amending the laws.
"I assure you that mandis will be modernised," he said. "MSP was there (in past). MSP is there (now). MSP will remain in the future." Modi appealed farmers to end their agitation while inviting them again for a dialogue.
All the amendments moved by the opposition to the President's address, including mention of the repeal of farm laws, were negated.
The Rajya Sabha also passed The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to replace the ordinance to merge the Jammu and Kashmir cadre of civil services officer with the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre, through a voice vote even as Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad raised doubts over the Centre's intention of giving full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.
Opposing the Statutory Resolution and Legislative Business (Bill for Consideration and Passing), the Jammu and Kashmir (Amendment) Bill 2021 as the first speaker, Azad said it was perhaps his last speech in the House and he didn't want to use harsh language but contrary to the government's tall promises behind converting Jammu and Kashmir into a UT, development had been stalled, industry couldn't enter and unemployment is on the rise.
Azad's Rajya Sabha tenure ends on 15 February. Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy had earlier moved a motion for considering the Bill and a statutory resolution on the draft law in Rajya Sabha.
The Congress leader batted for the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir , saying development had halted, there was an increase in unemployment and industries were closing, making survival difficult in the region. He also said hghways were in a dilapidated condition and ceasefire violations have risen causing severe damage to land and property. Tourism had taken a toll on account of months-long curfew earlier and then due to COVID-19 pandemic, schools, colleges and universities were closed and no salaries were being given to teachers.
Had there been elected representatives they could have taken responsibility and addressed the issues, he said.
"Give statehood and conduct elections," Azad demanded and said it is a border region and both the enemies, Pakistan and China, are sitting on our heads, and under the circumstance the government should strive to win the hearts of locals and strengthen its hands.
Azad also said that though it was Muslim-majority state, the executive remained largely Hindus and urged the government not make "Kashmir a guinea pig for experiments."
While participating in the debate, BJP's Dushyant Gautam said that political parties in the state were exploiting the people under the guise of Article 370.
RJD's Manoj Kumar Jha wanted to know whether the changes proposed under the bill were temporary or permanent in nature. He also wanted to know from the government whether there had been any increase in fresh recruitment in militancy in the valley after the change of Jammu and Kashmir's status.
BSP's Ashok Siddharth also supported the bill, however, said earlier 50 percent of the state cadre KAS officials were elevated to IAS cadre but after this, their elevation would be reduced to only 33 percent and this should be looked into.
AAP's Sushil Kumar Gupta said the government should take steps to normalise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and restore its full statehood as promised earlier.
BJP's Shamsher Singh Manhas said UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have several development schemes which are getting implemented.
Lok Sabha resumed normal functioning on Monday after a week-long disruption over the Centre's three farm laws following an appeal by defence minister Rajnath Singh.
After the House convened at 5 pm following a brief adjournment, Singh said the tradition of thanking the President has been continuing for long and it should not be broken in a healthy democracy.
He also said that Rajya Sabha has already passed the Motion of Thanks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reply and "I appeal to members not to break this tradition in the Lok Sabha".
Singh said that members are free to speak on farm laws during the discussion on the Motion of Thanks. Speaker Om Birla disallowed all adjournment motions also appealed to the members to allow the House to function and not indulge in sloganeering.
Congress Leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury too said that the tradition should not be broken. "Our demand was to discuss the issue of farmers who have been sitting in the cold on the borders of Delhi in protest against farm laws. It is regrettable that they are being stopped from entering the capital by sharp nails and barbed wires," he said.
He said the Opposition wanted an assurance from the government for a standalone discussion on the farmers' issue either after the debate on Motion of Thanks or after the discussion on Budget.
Participating in the debate on the Motion of Thanks, Chowdhury alleged that the government had sent "vandals" to Red Fort to "desecrate" the monument and defame the ongoing farmers' agitation, and demanded that a JPC probe be held to uncover the "big conspiracy".
"With such a strong home minister like Amit Shah, how can some people reach the Red Fort, that too on 26 January when the highest level of security was in place in Delhi.Why isn't there a proper investigation into it. It is actually a big, well-planned conspiracy to defame the farmers. The fact is that you have sent some vandals to the Red Fort to create vandalism. Forces within the government are behind it," he alleged.
He was referring to the Republic Day incident during the farmers' tractor rally when protesters had stormed the Red Fort, hoisted a religious flag on the ramparts and clashed with the police.
The Congress leader also demanded a similar investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the alleged TRP scam and purported chats of a television anchor that have allegedly been linked to Balakot airstrikes.
Secrecy still shrouds the Balakot operation, Chowdhury said, alleging that it was reported that the action was taken keeping in mind electoral benefits.
Chowdhury asked the government as to why it was "so much afraid" of a teenaged climate-activist, Greta Thunberg, that it engaged the whole machinery to counter her tweets supporting the farmers' agitation against the three agricultural laws.
"The whole world is discussing about India. Your action is bringing disrepute to India. Why are you so much afraid of an 18-year-old Greta (Thunberg). Why are you making Greta persona non grata? You have misguided (former test captain) Sachin Tendulkar, (music legend) Lata Mangeshkar," he said, referring to Tendulkar and Mangeshkar's tweets.
In the House where Modi, home minister Amit Shah, Rajnath and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were in attendance, Chowdhury likened the current situation in Delhi with Kabul, Baghdad and Syria, saying that barricades, barbed wire and nails have been put in and around the sites of the farmer protests at Delhi's borders.
Chowdhury alleged that the Central Government had earlier conspired against the Muslims and now against the farmers. "Farmers are at Delhi's borders. More than 200 farmers have lost their lives. Why is the prime minister not talking to them? Why this arrogance ? You have a majority and you are trying to bulldoze through your majority. Don't insult the farmers, don't wage a war against the farmers. Are they your enemy?" he said, lashing out at the Modi government.
The Congress leader said that the government did not convene the Winter Session citing the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting that "dissent, disagreement and dialogue are the hallmark of our civilisation".
Chowdhury said the BJP is bereft of any national icon and was borrowing icons. "There is nothing wrong in borrowing. But try to understand and comprehend these icons. You often take the name of Netaji (Subhash Chandra Bose). But why not take the names of (Jawaharlal) Nehru or Indira Gandhi. This reflects your pettiness," he claimed.
The Congress leader also asked the government to come clean on China's alleged transgressions into Indian territories and noted that the prime minister had asserted that nobody had intruded into the country. Chinese soldiers should be held by their necks and thrown out of Indian territories, he said.
DMK's TR Baalu called on the Centre to repeal the farm laws and said it should not stand on "false prestige and ego". Baalu also accused the government of transgressing on state's powers and also demanded that Tamil be made an official language.
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra too demanded that the three new farm laws be repealed and came down strongly on the MEA's response to Thunberg and Rihanna's tweets on the farmers' protest.
Moitra slammed the BJP government, saying it has turned propaganda into a cottage industry. She questioned the government for slapping sedition against journalists, and trying to take over state governments by "hook or crook".
She repeatedly used terms like cowards and cowardice to slam the government for "hiding behind" power and authority and alleged that it has made India a "virtual police State" by charging critical voices with sedition.
In her strong-worded speech during the discussion on the Motion of Thanks to the President's address, she lashed out at the government for making "hate and bigotry" a part of its narrative and alleged that the judiciary and the media have also "failed" the country.
According to the Hindu, Moitra referred to the WhatsApp Chat leaks and said India is in a state of undeclared emergency. "The judicary stopped being sacred when it failed to uphold the Constitution," the report quotes her as saying.
Her reference to a sexual harassment accusations against a former Chief Justice of India created uproar in the Lower House, with treasury members accusing her of violating parliamentary rules and demanding that her remarks be expunged. Union Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal termed her comments against the former CJI, who was not named, as "shameful".
RSP MP NK Premachandran, who was in the Chair, said her remarks will be expunged if found objectionable.
Moitra also criticised the government's decision to impose a nationwide lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19.
She also slammed the government over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
"Citizenship Amendment Act was passed in 2019 in this House on the pretext of granting citizenship to persecuted Hindus and other minorities in neighbouring countries," she said.
"At the same time, it threw into abusive insecurity millions of Indians who had been living in this land for generations. But the rules by which this act will be implemented were not yet prepared by December 2020, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs," she added.
"The deadline has yet again been extended till April 2021. If indeed this govt cared so much for those persecuted in the neighbouring countries, why does it miss the deadline to notify these rules?"
Participating in the debate, BJP member Virendra Kumar said the Modi government is committed to the welfare of farmers and it will remain so in the future too. The Modi government has been trying to double the income of the farmers through various measures, he said.
Referring to the ongoing farmers' agitation against the three agricultural laws, Kumar said there was some anxiety among a section of farmers but the government has tried to allay their concerns through discussions and so far 11-12 rounds of talks have taken place.
Kumar said the government has so far given Rs 1,13,000 lakh crore financial assistance to farmers and has been trying to enhance the minimum support price (MSP) of various agriculture products.
The BJP member said those who had incited people to create vandalism at the Red Fort or doubted the efficacy of the Indian vaccines, could not be called leaders.
Kumar also listed the Modi government's initiatives for the welfare of migrant labourers, reforms in labour laws, empowerment of women and providing houses to all homeless people by 2022.
BJP MP Locket Chatterjee, who initiated the debate last week, attacked the West Bengal government, saying the TMC government was "playing politics" with the people on various issues like the coronavirus vaccines.
West Bengal is set to go for Assembly elections in April or May. Against this backdrop, Chatterjee alleged that the state government was not doing anything for the people and that the state's chief minister was in "silent mode".
Chatterjee said there are various problems and incidents in West Bengal but "Didi is in silent mode", an apparent reference to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
"People will give reply in 2021," she said during her speech, which was a mix of Bengali, Hindi and English.
Amid recent controversy over chanting of 'Jai Shri Ram' in West Bengal, Chatterjee said, "Jai Shri Ram is not a bad word... It is not just uttered by BJP but by the whole nation".
After the discussion on the Motion of Thanks on the President's address was extended till midnight on Monday, BSP MP Ritesh Pandey took the Centre to task over the two-month-long farmer protest and unemployment in the country.
He said it was "shameful" that farmers were being called "terrorists" by some political leaders. "We should listen to farmers, and roll back the farm laws," he said.
BJP MP Pinaki Mishra also urged the Centre to bring in a law for MSP to allay the fears of the protesting farmers and added that the government must implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission "in letter and in spirit".
With inputs from PTI
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