A day after the Congress made it known that it will oppose the Bill to replace the ordinance promulgated to allow Nripendra Misra’s appointment as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary, its ally NCP Saturday sprang a surprise, saying it differed on the matter.
Reflecting divisions within the UPA over the issue, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said in Mumbai: “We will not oppose the Bill in Parliament. There is no need to take an extreme step.”
Pawar’s statement is a blow to the Congress, which was hoping to rally opposition forces to block the Bill’s passage in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in a minority. The Congress, sources in the party said, was gauging the mood of the opposition parties to formulate its strategy.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday, will replace the ordinance issued on May 28 to allow former TRAI chief Misra’s appointment. It changes a clause in the TRAI Act that would have prevented Misra from taking up a government post after retirement. Misra joined the PMO the same day the ordinance was promulgated.
The Indian Express had been the first to report the issuing of the ordinance within hours of assuming office by the Modi government.
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The Congress has questioned the “unholy haste and focus in having one person, who is challenged by law”, saying the Bill showed the BJP’s “scant regard for the processes of law”.
However, Pawar told reporters on Saturday: “It is not as if a person has left government service and joined Reliance or another private sector. He has returned to the government sector.” The NCP president cited the example of T K A Nair who, after retiring from service, became principal secretary to then PM Manmohan Singh.
The Congress apparently felt that none in the Opposition would oblige the government on the Bill. However, Pawar’s statement will force the party to recalibrate its position. Sources said the Congress may not seek a division in the Rajya Sabha on the Bill if it is clear that the numbers are not in its favour.
The BJP and its allies have 56 members in the Rajya Sabha out of the total 243. It can count on a couple of Independents and the support of the AIADMK, BJD and INLD, the combined strength of which is 20.
Excluding the NCP’s six, the UPA has 77 members in the Upper House. Besides there are 10 nominated members whom it may count on as they were brought into the Rajya Sabha during its government.
If the Left, JD(U), Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and BSP come together, there could be trouble for the government. Between them, these parties have 59 seats. Together with the UPA, they will be well above the half-way mark.
Most opposition parties are keeping their cards close to the chest on seeking a division even while opposing the Bill.
The TMC, which had opposed introduction of the Bill in the Lok Sabha, was not forthcoming on whether it would seek a division though maintaining its position on the legislation. “We will act according to the instructions of the party leadership,” Trinamool leader Sukhendu Shekhar Roy said. Senior party leader Derek O’ Brien said the stand would be consistent to what was in the Lok Sabha.
The Left also opposes the Bill, but will take a final call on seeking a division depending on the government’s explanation. “We would like to know why the law is being changed only for the purpose of one individual. And what was the whole purpose of doing it through the ordinance route. Let us hear the government’s explanation, then we will take a call,” the CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said.
The AIAMDK, which has 11 members in the Upper House, and the seven-member BJD too refused to reveal their cards. “We have not studied the Bill and as a party we have not decided what to do,” BJD floor leader Kalpataru Das said.