The monsoon session of Parliament, beginning Monday (July 19), is turning out to be the first major test for the revamped Modi Cabinet as the opposition plans to raise a number of contentious issues like paucity of COVID vaccines, oxygen shortage during the second wave, rising prices of fuel and essential items; and the death of Tiruchi-born Father Stan Swamy.
A number of senior members of the erstwhile Modi Cabinet — Thawar Chand Gehlot, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Harshvardhan, Prakash Javdekar, Sadanand Gowda and Santosh Gangwar — will not be answering questions related to various ministries and the responsibility now lies with new entrants like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Bhupendra Yadav, apart from Mansukh Mandaviya, Hardeep Puri, Anurag Thakur and Kiren Rijuju, who have been promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The opposition is also planning to grill the Union Government on the China border dispute, the LIC Initial Public Offer (IPO) and the controversial agri sector laws that farmers protesting at Delhi borders are gunning for.
Cauvery dispute and Stalin’s visit
The controversial Mekedatu Dam issue is also likely to create ripples in the monsoon session of Parliament with MPs from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka gearing up to slug it out. Interestingly, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin is expected to be in Delhi on the first day of the monsoon session and DMK MPs have emphasised that they will press upon the Union Government to deny clearances to the Karnataka government for the controversial dam proposed across the Cauvery river. This is Stalin’s second visit to Delhi after taking over as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. During the first visit, he had taken up the Cauvery water dispute with Prime Minister Modi. On Monday, Stalin is expected to call on President Ramnath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in what is being described as a courtesy call. However, his presence in Delhi on the first day of the monsoon session is seen to be significant.
Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa recently met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is learnt that the Karnataka Government is pressing for speedy clearance to the Megedatu dam project. Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has a tough call to make because the issue is sub-judice. Shekhawat will be under pressure because Karnataka is ruled by a BJP Government. In 2013 and 2014, the demand for setting up of Cauvery Water Management Authority had derailed Parliament proceedings on numerous occasions due to continuous sloganeering by the AIADMK. Similar scenes are expected this time.
The buzz in Karnataka is that Yediyurappa had stepped up the Megedatu dam issue to divert attention from growing opposition to him within the state BJP unit. No wonder the Karnataka CM’s visit to Delhi included a discussion with BJP National President J P Nadda, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah — the Prime Minister’s Man Friday. While his detractors are demanding the early appointment of a new chief minister, Yediyurappa is pushing for a larger role for his son within the Karnataka BJP unit. The appointment of Shobha Karandlaje, considered a strong supporter of the Karnataka CM, as a minister in the Union Government is viewed in this context. So is the exit of Sadanand Gowda from the Modi Cabinet. It seems the BJP is planning for multiple changes in Karnataka — the only state in south India where the party has a chief minister in place.
Vaccine shortage and COVID casualties
The Modi Government is seen to be on the backfoot now after Mamta Banerjee’s return to power in West Bengal and the BJP’s failure to make any major headway in either Kerala or Tamil Nadu. It is in this context that some opposition parties are planning to work together during the monsoon session to put the Union Government on the mat. They plan to ask awkward questions on the shortage of COVID jabs and acute shortage of oxygen during the peak of the second wave that led to the loss of numerous lives. Many states, including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal, have been vocal in demanding more vaccine stocks. The issue will be a priority during the monsoon session, according to Su. Venkatesan of the CPM. The Madurai Lok Sabha MP listed Megedatu, NEET exemption for Tamil Nadu, delay in Madurai AIIMS construction, LIC IPO and fuel price hike as other issues of importance that will be raised during the session.
Other issues like the Marine Fisheries Bill, Minor Ports Bill, and the proposed disinvestment of ordnance factories will also be opposed, said Dr Ravi Kumar of the Vidithalai Siruthaigal Party. Being an ally of DMK, the Vidithalai Siruthaigal Party is gearing up to oppose the Megedatu dam proposal and demand exemption for Tamil Nadu from the NEET medical entrance exam.
The opposition also plans to take up the denial of bail to Father Stan Swamy, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, who lost his life at a Mumbai hospital while still in custody. Death of the human right activist has led to widespread condemnation, especially since the authorities concerned were aware of his frail health and advanced age.
The opposition is also planning to corner the Union Government on several other issues ranging from the China border dispute to the three contentious farm sector bills that they want to be repealed.
17 new bills listed
On its part, the Modi Government plans to introduce 17 bills during the monsoon session that will be on till August 13. In addition, the Modi regime also hopes to take up 38 bills that are pending before Parliament as the previous sessions witnessed disruption due to furore over farm laws and curtailment due to COVID.
Many of the pandemic restrictions have been removed for the monsoon session while masking and social distancing will be observed. As a result, question hour and zero hour would be available for MPs to seek answers from the government and also highlight important issues while bills by private members will be taken up on Fridays.
The BJP feels that the Congress is on a weak wicket due to internal disputes in Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Moreover, the main opposition party does not have a full-time president and Sonia Gandhi is officiating as interim president since the 2019 Lok Sabha election debacle led Rahul Gandhi to resign as party chief. The recent meeting between Rahul Gandhi and poll strategist Prashant Kishore has given rise to lot of buzz about opposition unity and the monsoon session will be the first test for any such attempt, especially after NCP Chief Sharad Pawar’s meeting with Modi on Saturday in the middle of the growing friction within the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition in Maharashtra.