Come to Rajya Sabha more often, things can be mended: Azad to Parliamentary affairs minister

Indian Express, June 25, 2019

With PM Narendra Modi in the House, Azad told him that if he comes more often and engages more with the opposition, “a lot of things can be mended”.

Leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad launched a scathing attack on the government for the continuation of newly elected Bhopal MP Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in the BJP after her statement about Nathuram Godse being a “patriot”. He was speaking during the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address – which started with observations about the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

There is time still, Azad said, for the BJP to wipe that “stain” before October when the father of the nation’s birthday will be celebrated. With prime minister Narendra Modi in the House, Azad told Parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi that if he comes more often and engages with the opposition more, “a lot of things can be mended”. Earlier, moving the motion, BJP working president J P Nadda had slammed the opposition for repeated disruptions in the Upper House and asked them to rethink their strategy now that the people have given the government a clear mandate. The issue of Modi’s presence in the Rajya Sabha – or the lack of it – has been a bone of contention in government opposition relations in Parliament, particularly in the Rajya Sabha where opposition has better numbers.

“I would not have taken this issue up but the President’s address starts with the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi…I felt bad that the same year some MPs of the ruling party think his assassin was a patriot…I have her quote but I don’t want to say it…you should have dismissed her immediately… in 1952 when he came to Kashmir to campaign for a Congress candidate and came to know about allegations against the person, Nehru had on the spot asked for votes for an independent candidate.. there is still time for BJP before October to remove the stain,” Azad said.

Modi sat through Azad’s full speech; Azad told him that his goal of “sabka vishwas” could not be met by giving confused signals because “hope can only be in black and white”. “It does not work if you ask them to shut up with one hand and encourage them with the other,” Azad said. Though he did not take names, the reference was to intermittent statements from BJP leaders and legislators targetting some communities and religious groups.

Responding to Nadda’s plea that the opposition should mend their ways, he said: “Elections are won here over television and radio…congratulations to you and to the people of this country…We will be in opposition for 1000 years but we will not walk your talk. We cannot run the government on television, we believe in democracy, socialism, federalism, pluralism… whether we are in government, in the opposition or outside Parliament, we believe in the unity and sovereignty of India…we believe in these elections the country lost.” He urged the government to show its commitment to women’s empowerment not by “publicity” but by bringing the Women’s Reservation Bill.

Earlier, giving detailed accounts of the progress made by the government in all the schemes, Nadda said that India had moved on from being a mere spectator in the international arena, to being a player. “This House has seen a lot of disruptions…in a democracy we can agree to disagree but disagreement just for the sake of it is not good.., despite your disruptions we got this huge mandate because of our policies. I would request you to rethink whether your path is right or ours is. Opposition gains the most when the House runs…sometimes arrogance clouds the conscience.” The government’s goal, he said, had been to make life easier for women, youth and the poor.

Pushing for Modi’s plan of “One nation one election” he said that NDA had put an end to the “despair of 2014” and new India is leaping ahead.

Azad responded that the opposition wants the old India of communal amity back rather than the new one of lynchings and data burial. He pointed out that the last National Crime Records Bureau report of 2016 showed a 83% rise in crimes against women and after that there were no reports. He spoke about unemployment and how the leaked report of a 45-year high was denied by the government.

RJD MP Manoj Jha expressed concern about the government’s propensity to “generate data that suits them…in this country it seems we need SPG for data protection…secularism I see has disappeared from the President’s address…is this a case of give the dog a bad name and kill it?” SP leader Ramgopal Yadav accused the government of looking at political colour in the way they dealt with states. “When we were in government in Uttar Pradesh every second day the President would write letters. Now 24 people have died in 17 days and there is no letter…in West bengal three people, claimed to be BJP workers dies and there is an advisory. But there is none for UP…there are fake encounters every day.”

Several speakers including Azad, Jha, Yadav and Prasanna Acharya of the BJD took strong objection to a paragraph in the President’s address that said that in giving the massive mandate in 2019 to the BJP, “the people of the country have given a mandate for continuing uninterrupted and at an accelerated pace the journey of development which started in 2014.” The line, speakers say, undermine not just the contributions of the founding fathers of the country but also successive prime ministers including the constibution of the earlier NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

CPM MP T K Rangarajan said that the elections were a fight between the soft Hindutva of Congress and the hard Hindutva of BJP but what worked the “magic” was Pulwama. But, he warned, a brute majority is no guarantee of that majority being retained forever. In what may be a sign of things to come, opposition and tesury benches differed over how long the debate should continue with government pushing for 8 pm and the opposition pushing for 6 which is the normal time when House proceedings end. A compromise was finally reached on 7 pm.

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