With Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Assam to review the flood situation there, BJP president Amit Shah cracked the whip Tuesday on Rajya Sabha members of the party who were not present in the Upper House Monday during the passage of a politically significant Constitution amendment Bill. On Monday, the government was left red-faced after the Opposition, realising that the treasury benches were short of numbers, forced a crucial clause to be dropped from The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017 on granting constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
The Bill was passed minus Clause 3 which dealt with the composition of the commission. This means that the government will have to start the process afresh in Lok Sabha with a new Bill that need not include amendments pushed through by the Opposition in Rajya Sabha.
Taking serious exception to the “lapse” by BJP members, including Union Ministers, Shah was quoted as having told MPs at the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting Tuesday morning: “Do not think that you are MPs because of your greatness. You have been given the opportunity by the party. Just turn back and you will see a long queue of deserving people for this position.”
Sources said the Prime Minister, who left for Assam early morning, had already spoken to his cabinet colleagues who were not present in Rajya Sabha on Monday evening.
The legislation has been projected by the BJP as a major political outreach to the backward classes and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has time and again highlighted it as a major effort of his government to address the concerns of the communities.
BJP MPs, who attended the meeting in the morning, said Shah told members that they should “discharge their duties” and that the party leadership had taken a serious view of the “irresponsible behaviour”.
Shah said he would form an internal party committee to probe the “fiasco” and seek explanation from every member for the absence from the Upper House. “He said he himself will try to be present to listen to the explanations,” a BJP MP who was present at the meeting told The Indian Express.
While MPs blamed “poor floor coordination”, a senior minister pointed out that there was a whip to members to be present and vote for the Bill. “It was not a wedding or a birthday party where they should have waited for an invitation. It was part of their duty,” the minister said. The MPs, however, said that floor managers of the party could not get all NDA members on board — over two dozen NDA members were also absent.
A senior NDA MP said there was no “information” from the government to be present in the House. “They could not even get the JD(U) MPs to be with the government,” the MP said.
Meanwhile, addressing BJP MPs, Shah accused the Congress of “conspiring” to derail the Constitution amendment Bill. He said the Congress had been conspiring to stop the Bill’s passage in Rajya Sabha despite all parties agreeing to its provisions in the select committee it was sent to, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar told reporters after the meeting.
Later, at a press conference, BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav, senior MPs Hukmdev Narayan Yadav and Ganesh Singh launched an attack on the Congress, accusing it of choosing “minority vote-bank politics” over the welfare of Other Backward Classes.
“There is a separate minority commission to address their concerns. The OBC Commission is meant only to address the concerns of people from this class. It is religion-neutral and by raising the issue of minority (representation) in it, the Congress has shown that it has preferred minority politics over the welfare of 15,000 castes and communities in the OBC category,” the leaders said. They said the BJP would launch a campaign against the Opposition for “betraying” the OBC community.