Agnipath, Nupur Sharma, GST may make Monsoon Session a stormy one

Parliament's next session will kick off on July 18 with electing the next President; the Agnipath scheme, Nupur Sharma controversy, toppling of Uddhav Thackeray government, GST compensation for states are expected to dominate the session

Parliament monsoon session, Agniveer, Opposition unity
The Monsoon Session that stretches from July 18 to August 12 may not allow much time for debates since swearing in ceremonies will take centre stage on multiple occasions.

It promises to be a yet another stormy Parliament session from July 18.

The dramatic toppling of the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra, the angry protests by youth opposing the Agnipath scheme for recruitment to the armed forces, controversial remarks by Nupur Sharma and the shocking Udaipur beheading, the demands for continuing GST compensation by the states and a strong push for lowering fuel prices, are among the key issues likely to crop up during the upcoming Monsoon Session.

This session will kick off to a bustling start on July 18 with the election of the next President of India. The Congress and the regional parties like the DMK, Shiv Sena and Trinamool Congress are planning to corner the Narendra Modi government on rising inflation and its burden on the common man, in addition to issues specific to their region like the Cauvery water dispute.

BJP leaders are hoping to tide over the challenges easily as the Opposition lacks unity, as demonstrated in the selection of a consensus candidate for the election of the next President.

Election on Day 1

Yashwant Sinha’s defeat in the Presidential election has become a foregone conclusion, with the Biju Janata Dal supporting National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Draupadi Murmu, according to top BJP leaders.

The BJP leaders claimed that they are now just focussed on trying to improve their victory margin. They added that Murmu, slated to be the country’s first President from the Scheduled Tribes, is gaining strong support even in Sinha’s home ground – Jharkhand.

Jolted by the Eknath Shinde revolt, Shiva Sena is also veering around to back the NDA candidate, leaving the Opposition-backed candidate in the lurch. This is also being viewed as a setback to Maha Vikas Aghadi, as Sharad Pawar’s NCP and the Congress are backing Yashwant Sinha. Another former NDA ally, the Akali Dal, has also offered support to Draupadi Murmu, while Hemant Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is also expected to back Murmu rather than vote for the Opposition candidate.

Also read: Uddhav’s Sena to back Murmu for President; does not mean supporting BJP, says Raut

BJP senior leaders feel that the President’s election will set the mood for the Monsoon Session and the ruling alliance will be on the front foot. Voting to decide the next President of India is scheduled to happen on July 18, the first day of the session, and the NDA is hoping to expose more chinks in the Opposition’s unity bid that started with Mamata Banerjee’s failed attempt to galvanise Sharad Pawar as the Opposition’s consensus candidate.

Protest fire

The Congress, Left parties, Trinamool Congress, TRS and several other Opposition parties, meanwhile, are planning to corner the Modi government over the Agnipath scheme, which involves the short-term recruitment of defence forces that triggered massive violence in several states including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Haryana.

They feel the recent assassination of Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe illustrates the dangers of the Agniveer scheme, as Abe’s assassin Tetsuya Yamagami was a former member of Japan’s navy, who retired after a short-service commission. Trained defence personnel retiring from the forces at a young age has become a point of debate since the Agniveer scheme was announced.

The process of recruiting the first batch of Agniveers is underway now and the Opposition plans to highlight growing unemployment that has led to anger among the youth.

Also read: Rajnath Singh briefs MPs on Agnipath scheme, some seek rollback

Communal tensions

The gory Udaipur beheading that led to communal tension in Rajasthan is another issue that the Opposition plans to highlight during the Monsoon Session, targeting former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma.

The arrest of Mohammad Zubair and “Bulldozer politics” is also expected to come up in this context. The BJP plans to hit back by criticising the Rajasthan government for failing to maintain law and order, and not providing security to Kanaiya Lal, whose murder video was brazenly made viral by the killers.

Communal violence in various parts of the country including Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka and Rajasthan will be another issue that the ruling coalition will be questioned about, said prominent Opposition MPs.

Pinching price rise

The Modi government is also set to face a volley of questions on the unprecedented inflation that has caused immense pain to the common man. Soaring prices of essentials are hurting the poor all over the country, pointed out a senior MP representing the Left.

The BJP, on its part, plans to launch a counter-attack by stressing that the Union government has reduced the tax on petrol and diesel. BJP-ruled states have also reduced VAT on fuels while Opposition-ruled states have not followed suit, a Union minister argued.

Unemployment and surging prices have made life miserable for the poor who have already been hit hard by two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Russia-Ukraine war has worsened the situation with prices of food, clothing and other essentials skyrocketing, ravaging family budgets of the poor.

Also read: Parliament’s Monsoon session likely to begin from July 18

Cash crunch for states

The impact of COVID-19 has also led state governments to demand GST compensation for a few more years and their demand is likely to echo in parliament during the Monsoon Session. The five-year period agreed upon for compensation while implementing Good & Service Tax (GST) in 2017 has ended in June.

States were promised that they will get compensation if their revenue does not increase by 14 per cent every year and the COVID lockdown had thrown all calculations to the wind. Therefore, the compensation cess – from which states were to be paid – dried up and the central government had to resort to borrowing.

Now the GST compensation has been extended by four years to repay the loans with interest. However, the GST Council has not approved extension of the compensation period and regional parties plan to push for this demand in both houses of Parliament. Some members are also planning to oppose the recently-imposed GST on unbranded food products like curd.

Packed schedule

The Monsoon Session that stretches from July 18 to August 12 may not, however, allow much time for debates since swearing in ceremonies will take centre stage on multiple occasions. After the voting for electing the next President of India on July 18, a grand ceremony for swearing-in of the new president is slated to take place before July 24, the day Ramnath Kovind completes his term.

Similarly, voting to elect the next vice-president is on the agenda on August 6 and the new vice-president, who is also the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, has to take over before August 10, when M Venkaiah Naidu completes his term.

Announcements of the NDA and UPA candidates for the vice-presidential election and the subsequent campaign are also expected to keep top leaders occupied during the monsoon session.

In addition, many members elected to the Rajya Sabha recently are yet to take oath and four members nominated to the Rajya Sabha are also expected to take oath during the Monsoon Session. Moreover, updates about the new Parliament house and Central Vista project are expected to happen during the session that may face constraints due to COVID protocols as well.

The all-party meetings being organised by the government, Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha chairperson on the weekend preceding the Monsoon Session are expected to provide a preview to  the battles ahead, even as the Modi government is expected to take up a slew of Bills during the session.