The Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh has already earned the sobriquet ‘reverse regime’, given the Chief Minister’s penchant for reversing the key decisions of his bete noire N Chandrababu Naidu who headed the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government.
In what is now seen as ‘mother of all reversals’, the chief minister is ‘actively considering’ abolition of the opposition-dominated Legislative Council which has blocked a key bill on creation of three capital cities — Visakhapatnam as executive capital, Amaravati as legislative capital and Kurnool as judicial capital.
According to sources in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), the proposal to do away with the 58-member Upper House was ‘very much on the cards’ and the matter would be discussed at the next cabinet meeting.
A senior YSR Congress Party leader D Veerabhadra Rao has gone on record, saying that the government was well within its rights to abolish the Council.
The loss of face in the Legislative Council, where the opposition TDP successfully stonewalled the bill amid high drama on Tuesday (January 22) night, appears to have prompted the Chief Minister to go for the kill.
“Even if the government goes ahead with the proposal, the abolition of the Council will not happen overnight. The Parliament needs to approve it. The State Assembly can only pass a resolution and send it to the Centre for Parliament approval,” political analyst Prof K Nageswar said.
It is not the first time that abolition of the Legislative Council is being contemplated. In the past too, the Upper House had served as a political battleground for the parties to settle scores.
In the combined Andhra Pradesh, the then Chief Minister N T Rama Rao abolished the Council in 1985 because the Congress, which was then in the opposition, gave a tough time for his government and repeatedly stalled important bills.
In 2007, the Congress government, headed by Jagan’s father Y S Rajasekhar Reddy restored it, mainly to accommodate several party seniors who had either lost the elections or did not have the political muscle to get elected as MLAs. The Council over the years has been a rehabilitation centre for several such leaders.
The question now being asked in political circles is whether Jagan would go so far as to reverse a decision taken by his father. Jagan, who positions himself as a successor of YSR’s political legacy, is known to be ‘sentimental’ about his father’s policy decisions. One of his key poll promises has been to usher in “Rajanna Rajyam”, a reference to the pro-poor and welfare-oriented regime of YSR who was the Chief Minister of the combined AP between 2004 and 2009.
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In the 58-member Council which includes 8 nominated members, the TDP has a clear majority with 28 members as against 9 from the YSRCP while BJP has two, PDF 5 and independents 3. Three seats are vacant.
Interestingly, when YSR revived the Council in 2007, Chandrababu Naidu, who was the opposition leader in the Assembly, had criticised the move, dubbing it as a burden on the exchequer and had boycotted its inaugural programme. Incidentally, Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh is the Member of Legislative Council (MLC) now.
A section of the YSRCP leaders argue that Jagan may finally refrain from taking the extreme step of abolishing the Council because the ruling party has a good chance of winning several seats in the next round of Council elections in 2021. Moreover, several party leaders are waiting in the wings to be accommodated in the Upper House.
The uncertainty over BJP’s stand is another factor that must be weighing on his mind. Since the Council abolition needs Parliament’s approval, it is not clear whether the saffron party would back such a move. The BJP has opposed the three-capital proposal and has been backing the agitation by farmers of Amaravati region.
In a big setback to the government, the opposition stonewalled the passage of two crucial bills, pertaining to the capital cities, by invoking Rule 71 of the legislative proceedings which allows for a debate on disapproving the government bills.
The twin bills — one on repealing the AP Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) Act enacted in 2014 to develop Amaravati as the state capital and another on creation of three capitals as part of de-centralised administration, were passed by the Assembly on Monday (January 20).
But, they hit a roadblock in the Upper House. The TDP obstructed the attempts of Municipal Administration minister B Satyanarayana and Finance Minister B Rajendranath Reddy to introduce the two bills.
TDP floor leader in the council Yanamala Ramakrishnudu gave a notice to council chairman Mohd Ahmed Sharif seeking to move a motion under Rule 71 of the legislative proceedings seeking a debate to disapprove the bills.
The council chairman, who took the headcount of the members in support of the motion, ruled that the TDP could initiate the debate. This led to pandemonium in the House, as the YSRC members demanded that the discussion on the two bills be taken up first.
The ruling party members, along with 20 cabinet ministers who came to the Council to take part in the debate, stormed the podium several times demanding that the chairman allowed the bills to be discussed first. The chairman was forced to adjourn the House five times.
When the House assembled late in the evening, the Council Chairman finally agreed to allow the ministers to introduce the bills but refused to take them up for discussion till the debate over the motion under Rule 71 was completed.
Though the TDP members protested initially for allowing the introduction of the bill, they continued with the debate later. The entire proceedings were held in camera, as the legislature authorities suspended the live telecast of the council proceedings on technical grounds.
After conclusion of the debate, the opposition motion was put to vote. Out of 49 members present in the House, 27 voted in favour of the TDP motion and 13 members against it, while the remaining nine, including the BJP members, abstained.
Even if the Council eventually rejects the bills, it could be re-introduced in the Assembly, passed and sent to the Governor for consent. But, if the Council refers the bills to select committee, then the government’s plans to shift the administrative capital to Visakhapatnam could be delayed by a few weeks.