While it did not grab headlines like the failure to push the triple talaq Bill in Rajya Sabha, the OBC Bill did put the government in a spot of bother. The ruling party’s floor management in Lok Sabha came a cropper on two successive days, as the government could not get the politically ambitious OBC Bill passed by the House despite its brute majority.
The result: the Bill, projected as a major political outreach to the backward classes, is pending as Winter Session wound up Friday.
The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017, on granting constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) was listed for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The government had to defer taking up the Bill on Wednesday and Thursday since a large number of BJP MPs were not in the House, sources said.
On Wednesday, 270 party MPs were present. On Thursday, when the Bill was to be taken up for consideration and passage, treasury benches had 183 members in the House, lower than the number required for a constitutional amendment, sources in BJP said.
BJP president Amit Shah is learnt to have given a dressing down to party MPs on Wednesday evening after failing to push the Bill through.
In August, both Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given BJP’s Rajya Sabha MPs a earful for remaining absent during passage of the same Bill. As a result, the government was forced to drop a crucial clause and bring back the Bill to the House in Winter Session, as it sought to reject amendments inserted in the original Bill by the Upper House.
According to sources, Shah on Wednesday had asked Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar to speak to some MPs who were not present to convey that the leadership was “extremely upset, angry and disappointed” with their behaviour. “The party president was so angry that he said that if members who want to be absent from proceedings despite repeated messages may take leave from Parliament permanently,” said a source in BJP familiar with the development.
Kumar had telephoned some MPs who were not in Delhi to convey the message and asked them to rush by Thursday.
The Indian Express spoke to five members who were not present in Lok Sabha when the Bill was taken up. Of them, three said they were present in Parliament complex, and were to be present in the House during the voting. “We were expecting a text message or a call when the Bill was put to vote. The whip was to be present in Parliament,” said one MP, requesting anonymity.
Another MP said, “Some of us went upstairs to vote (for selecting members to the Committee on Official Language, Coir Board and Central Silk Board). We did not get any alert to return to the House.”
G M Siddeshwara, MP from Davangere, Karnataka, who was absent on Wednesday, said he got a call to be in the House on Thursday. “But I was in my constituency as (B S) Yeddyurappa’s parivartan yatra was reaching there (Thursday),” he said.
On Wednesday, Lok Sabha was adjourned at 1.38 pm following heated exchanges between Union minister Giriraj Singh and Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee. The adjournment surprised many Opposition MPs.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge has alleged that the House was adjourned as the BJP did not have numbers. “They did not have 273 members present. For a constitutional amendment Bill to be passed you need 273 members present. Because the numbers were not there, they disturbed Kalyan Banerjee when he was speaking (on the Bill)…. Ministers stood up and created trouble without permission as they wanted to get the House adjourned,” Kharge had told the media on Wednesday.
Sources in BJP said “timely intervention” of the senior leadership had “saved the party from a major embarrassment”. “At one point the strength in the House was less than 270 and many feared a repeat of the situation in Rajya Sabha in July, when the same Bill was taken up. So senior ministers warned the (party) whips it would be better if the House was adjourned,” the source said.
Officially, the BJP maintains that clashes between Singh and Banerjee led to abrupt adjournment of the proceedings. But an Opposition MP pointed out that if the clash was the issue, proceedings could resume after a short break.
While the BJP leadership is “disillusioned” by “irresponsible behaviour” of MPs, many MPs blamed poor floor coordination for the fiasco. “You cannot expect all MPs to sit in the House throughout, especially when they have to go and vote for committees,” a party MP said. “Also, there is no roster duty so that at least a certain number of MPs can be present at any given time. You cannot treat MPs like schoolchildren.”
But another party MP from Karnataka said: “Members need some discipline. They cannot give excuses for irresponsible behaviour.”