With the National Herald issue continuing to roil Parliament and the government aggressively countering the Congress by questioning the rationale for stalling the House over an issue which is in court, there is disquiet among a section of party MPs over the correctness of the strategy to obstruct proceedings.
To add to the unease, the Congress action has not found enough support from others in the Opposition. The discomfort, it seems, is over the tactics.
With the Gandhis coming under attack, there is unanimity in the Congress that the government is indulging in “vendetta politics” and is “targeting” its leadership. Rahul Gandhi said as much when he accused the Prime Minister’s Office Wednesday: “One hundred per cent political vendetta. Pure political vendetta coming out of PMO. It is their way of doing politics…”
But what some Congress MPs are asking is whether it is politically prudent and sustainable to take a legal battle to Parliament crying retribution.
Sources said some senior Congress MPs were of the view on Tuesday that the party should raise the issue for a day to send a message across to the government that it will not take such “political retribution” lying down. Some others felt the party should continue to raise the V K Singh-dog remark issue in the House which had the support of other Opposition parties. That unity broke after the Congress moved to the Herald issue.
But the overwhelming view in the party and among its MPs still is that the Herald issue should be raised in the House aggressively.
Sources said one view is that obstruction will give the government and the BJP the ammunition to argue that the Congress is standing in the way of passage of bills and discussion on issues like price-rise. That dilemma was evident when Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad took the names of many Opposition parties — he named DMK, TMC, SP, BSP, RJD and JD(U) — and accused the government of trying to be an “Opposition-free India”.
Both Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge in Lok Sabha continued to talk about the government targeting the Opposition, not just the Congress. They argued that there are “two sets of rules in the country — one for the ruling party and another for the Opposition”.
Barring the Trinamool Congress, the Congress did not get much support from the rest of the Opposition in both Houses.
Sources said the party will revisit its strategy over the weekend. “May be we will allow the second half — private member business — on Friday. We will then discuss and decide the strategy on Saturday,” a top Congress leader told The Indian Express.
Today, the party, in a rare exercise, summoned its MPs to Parliament annexe where Sonia Gandhi’s lawyer in the case, Kapil Sibal, and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Rahul Gandhi’s lawyer, took a 90-minute class. They briefed MPs on different aspects of the case.
Sources said the MPs were told that there was no pecuniary benefit in it for the top two of the Congress. The intention behind setting up Young Indian was to relaunch the National Herald and run the paper in a better manner.
Late Wednesday, top leaders of the Congress party went into a huddle at Sonia Gandhi’s residence. Sources said it was decided that the party will fight what it assessed as “politics of intimidation” by the government. Sources said several political issues, apart from the National Herald case, were discussed.
Those attended the meeting included Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, former finance minister P Chidambaram, former ministers Kapil Sibal and Ashwini Kumar and media department head Randeep Surjewala. They discussed ways to counter the government narrative on the Herald issue. The option of approaching the Supreme Court too came up for discussion again.
Party leaders felt the government was attempting to hold the Congress responsible for non-passage of bills, including the key reform legislation on GST.
Later Chidambaram, suggesting that the Congress was not holding up the GST bill, said the party was awaiting proposals of the government on the bill.
“There is a lot of misinformation about the GST bill and the stand of the Congress… We have three major concerns with the present bill. We have given our formulations on the three issues to the government. Government gave its views at the meeting called by the Prime Minister and attended by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.”
“We promised to reflect on the matter. Government promised to reflect on our concerns and come up with revised formulations. We are waiting for the revised formulations. We have not been given anything so far. Let the revised formulations come,” he said.