Since 16 March when the second leg of the Budget session was reconvened everything has been happening in Parliament but work. No less than three no-confidence motions given by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSR Congress against the Narendra Modi-led NDA government stand pending in Lok Sabha since that day. Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were adjourned for the 14th consecutive day amid protests until Thursday. Friday happened to be the 15th time. Jyotiraditya Scindia, who represents Guna constituency in Madhya Pradesh, was one of those accused of disrupting the House when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was reading out the list of 39 Indians who died in Iraq.
In an interview to Firstpost about the state of affairs in Parliament and his preparation for the state Assembly polls, Scindia said, "We are in the 14th day of the Parliament not functioning. The Congress party isn't the one in the well of the House. We are sitting in our seats. In a parliamentary democracy, it is every party's right to protest but isn't it the duty of the government to break the logjam?" He accused the ruling party of not having initiated a dialogue with the opposition parties and of not calling an all-party meeting to break the logjam.
His prime accusation is that this logjam has been socially engineered by the government because it doesn't want to discuss the Nirav Modi scam, the no-confidence motion, mortar shelling along the LoC in Poonch that claimed the lives of five members of a family, and the threat to internal security in Naxal-affected Sukma where nine CRPF jawans were killed last week.
"The government is interested in the functioning of the Parliament when it wants to stand up and make a statement and not after that," the 47-year-old Guna MP said when quizzed about whether his argumentative methods are in fact disruptive.
Notwithstanding the reasons for which Parliament was disrupted, the exchequer had to bear the burden of that. In the Finance Bill of 2018, the basic salary of MPs was revised from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000 per month. Before the revision of salaries and perks, IndiaSpend calculations showed that about Rs 144 crore was lost due to disruptions during the 10th session of the Lok Sabha in 2016.
"Sushma Swaraj has repeatedly, on the floor of the House, said that all 39 members are safe and that she has received evidence from six witnesses and two others who are to be 100 percent trusted that they are alive and well. How can she now stand up and make this statement?" Scindia asked.
Someplace far from the carpeted green confines of the Lok Sabha, news surfaced about the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica that allegedly mined 50 million profiles from the social networking site to orchestrate campaigns for 2016 US elections and Brexit referendum. The company's India partner Oveleno Business Intelligence (OBI) lists the BJP, the Congress and the JD (U) as its clients. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad alleged that Congress president Rahul Gandhi's entire social media campaign was managed by the said company to which senior Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala responded by saying Prasad should be renamed from law minister to 'jhoot mantri'. And so began another slugfest over the privacy and data of millions of Indians which is possibly at risk.
"If you look at the facts, the Congress party has never engaged with Cambridge Analytica, not for any election, not for any research. The company has stated on its website that it had a mandate and transactions that have happened with regard to the Uttar Pradesh Election and the Bihar Elections for the BJP," said Scindia, saying it is a case of the kettle calling the pot black.
The Madhya Pradesh elections are still eight months away and the electoral outcome will undoubtedly have an impact on the 2019 Lok Sabha election. In the second largest state situated in the heart of India, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is completing his third term. Scindia hasn’t been projected as the chief ministerial face yet but is the maharaja combat-ready? Yes, except he now wants the title of maharaja dropped. "My name is Jyotiraditya Scindia and I believe it's important to be able to go forward in my life based on your own achievements and hard work and that’s something that I’d like to speak for me and not my past," said the Guna MP, who holds degrees from Harvard and Stanford and feels thinking in the binary of ‘Harvard versus hard work’ isn’t fair because each degree, secured from whichever university, is achieved through hard work and shouldn’t be disparaged or insulted. He also acknowledged that even those without degrees have had an amazing history and track record of public service in India.
From a crop of young and argumentative parliamentarians, can India expect a narrative shift towards a jumla-free, issue-based election campaign? "I may disagree with you and have every right to attack your policies, achievements and failures if there is a yawning chasm between what they have said and what they have done. But I don’t believe in entering the personal realm," said Scindia as he looks forward to a season of issue-centric campaigning. Sure, he doesn’t make a personal attack but he does spin out jumla at the BJP, saying it has perfected the tripartite act of ‘jhooth bolna, baar baar bolna and jor se bolna’.
With three-fourth of the voters being farmers, their distress is the top priority. Scindia even renamed Madhya Pradesh's agrarian scheme Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana the Bhrastachaar Anant Yojana. The scheme is designed to offer the farmer the bhavantar or the price difference between the MSP and the market price and is broadly considered a healthy policy by agrarian experts. In an earlier conversation with Firstpost, agrarian expert Devinder Sharma had said that the policy which states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have shown an interest in, is on the face of it a good scheme but the problem lies in the implementation of it. He had given the instance of the price of black gram fixed at Rs 3,000 per quintal against the procurement price of Rs 5,400 per quintal. Scindia pointed out that the scheme offers the farmer the difference between what he has received in the mandi and the average mandi price in that area. He plucked two nerves. Firstly, the scheme is only applicable to those farmers registered with that government and only 8 percent farmers in Madhya Pradesh fall in this category. Secondly, the minute the scheme was announced, the traders got together and brought down the price of soyabean from Rs 2,350 and were buying from farmers at an average rate of Rs 1,800-1,900. In a story Firstpost reported on the impact of the scheme on the ground, Sharma had stated that traders form a cartel and pick up the black gram for prices as low as Rs 500 per quintal from farmers. Scindia may have lashed out at the scheme but did not however share a fresh and original recourse to resolving farmer distress.
In Madhya Pradesh, the tribal vote is a substantial 21 percent. Does Scindia have an outreach plan in place or will the Congress crumble like a cookie before the BJP’s thick shake of fieldwork? Under the UPA-rule, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was introduced after a protracted struggle by marginalised communities across the country. The act has a provision for entitlement to land for the tribals and other forest dwellers. Scindia alleged that the pattas distributed by previous UPA regimes were taken back during the NDA rule. But, returning of pattas wouldn’t merely solve the problem, unless there is a survey and demarcation to ensure the claimants get their due. Should he be voted to power, it will be an uphill task for Scindia to convince the forest administration to part with the land, a problem that has been going on since the act came into force, which was in 2006 when there was a UPA-led government at the Centre.
For Scindia, who faces one of the most critical elections of his political career thus far, says it is time to rise above BJP and Congress and make the election about the 7.5 crore residents of Madhya Pradesh. Time will tell which party clings on to that in reality.
Updated Date: Mar 24, 2018 17:12 PM