Under Opposition fire ever since it demonetised notes of higher denomination, the government Wednesday reached out to rivals, seeking a discussion to end the deadlock in Parliament where protests have washed out proceedings for a week now. Opposition floor leaders gave no immediate commitment and said they would take a call Thursday.
Sources said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar spoke to Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, and leaders of the CPM, Trinamool Congress, BSP and Samajwadi Party and invited them for a meeting to be chaired by Home Minister Rajnath Singh in an attempt to end the impasse.
Azad, sources said, told the government that the Congress cannot take a decision on its own and will consult the other Opposition parties Thursday morning on the government proposal for a meeting.
The move came on a day which saw 14 Opposition parties staging a joint protest on the premises of Parliament House. Opposition parties have called for a nationwide protest, Jan Aakrosh Diwas, on November 28 against what they called the government’s disastrous implementation of its demonetisation move.
On Wednesday, exchanges between the treasury benches and the Opposition over the rule under which a debate on demonetisation should take place stalled Lok Sabha while Rajya Sabha witnessed repeated adjournments with the Opposition demanding the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the House.
The government refused to take up a debate under a rule which entails voting at the end while the Opposition, which did not appear to be united on the voting issue, insisted on an adjournment motion.
The Prime Minister was present in Lok Sabha since questions relating to the departments he handles were to come up in the lower House. He is likely to be in Rajya Sabha Thursday during question hour.
In Lok Sabha, the ruling BJP managed to bring on board allies Shiv Sena and SAD (Badal) which had reservations on the demonetisation rollout. Leaders of both parties said that they would settle for a discussion under Rule 193 which is the government’s preference. On the opening day of the winter session, Shiv Sena MPs had joined a Trinamool Congress protest march to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The AIADMK, which had stayed away from protests inside the House, joined the Congress, Left, TMC, SP, BSP, DMK, JD(U) and other parties at a demonstration staged before the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the premises of Parliament House.
When Lok Sabha met in the morning, the Prime Minister was present in the House. He watched as Congress and TMC MPs rushed to the well, shouting slogans and raising placards. Congress MPs also carried two banners, one with a slogan that questioned the “absence” of the Prime Minister.
Congress MPs paid no heed to repeated warnings from Speaker Sumitra Mahajan that banners in the House violated its rules. “You are such a responsible party, you are doing all these things. I am sorry. This is not fair,” she said, adding that the issue could be taken up after question hour. As she took up questions and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad began replying, Opposition MPs raised a din to shut out the minister’s response.
The Prime Minister remained on his seat for a few minutes after the House was adjourned at 11.06 am. He was seen talking to Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar. BJP MPs then converged there to compliment Modi on the demonetisation decision.
When Lok Sabha proceedings resumed at noon, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said his party was ready for a discussion. “But a message has gone out that the Opposition is not ready for discussion. People are distressed, people are in pain and we want to discuss their problems. What we want is that the Prime Minister should be present here. You (Speaker) should allow us the adjournment motion,” he said.
At this, Ananth Kumar said: “If the Opposition offers any constructive suggestion, we will heed to it, implement it. We have launched a campaign against black money, fake currency and corruption and the people of India are supporting Modi.”
Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD) and Jithender Reddy (TRS), two parties which have not joined the Congress-led protests, favoured early resolution of the impasse for resumption of House proceedings.