With witticisms, barbs and boycott and among legislators, it seemed like just another day during a Rajasthan Assembly session. However, it all happened virtually, during a day-long consultation called by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Gehlot held the video-conference on Sunday with his MLAs and Opposition MPs and MLAs from across the state “in order to bring all parties on a common platform and invite ideas to better tackle the fight against coronavirus”. Giving an overview, Gehlot said he had held consultations with religious leaders, activists and experts in order to take them along.
Next, Speaker C P Joshi addressed the video-conference, and was followed by Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria. “On behalf of all, I would like to thank you (CM) for calling us and for starting this new and good tradition,” Kataria said. He highlighted problems faced by migrants, saying that even those with passes have to wait 12-14 hours and need to be provided food, water and transportation.
Kataria also alleged that relief kits being were not being distributed properly by the government and that “senior doctors” are avoiding going to quarantine centres. He also requested Gehlot to prevent his ministers from targeting the Union government over lack of assistance. “We don’t want to bring the party in this fight with coronavirus. Else we will have to retort and we do,” he said.
Gehlot assured Kataria of addressing the “communication gap” and said he would talk to him personally. “We will be happy if you give us feedback, we want to take you along,” the CM said.
Former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who was the last to speak for the day, said, “The entire country is going through this pandemic and I believe you have brought everyone and all parties together, which is a big step.” She called for greater cooperation “between the parties and the people of Rajasthan in tackling governance” and raised the issue of migrants.
Like most legislators, she asked Gehlot to “roll back the 2 per cent mandi tax”, saying the state should strive towards doubling farmers’ income, as outlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She also asked the CM to increase testing, saying that while it might earn the state some bad press, it will help tackle the pandemic more effectively. “I would like to thank you and your administration because you have tried your best,” she said.
In a tongue in cheek remark, Raje added, “I’m very happy to see that the IT (infrastructure) which we had set up in the last five years, you are using it very well,” which led to chortles among the legislators. Gehlot told her, “I have already thanked you for it.”
Most Congress MLAs thanked the Gehlot government while raising the issue of migrants, farmers, and the economic impact on small businesses and shopkeepers.
Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh also asked the CM to review the mandi tax and flagged the issue of water for farmers. Minister of State for Medical and Health, Subhash Garg, the MLA from Bharatpur, also sought a review of mandi tax. Giving the example of lentils, he said that currently it is 1.6 per cent, and after 2 per cent addition, it becomes 3.6 per cent. “Not businesses but farmers will suffer,” he said.
Zahida Khan, MLA from neighbouring Kama in Bharatpur district and who is also from the Congress, said that minister Garg gets a new doctor posted in his constituency and hence her constituency is denied health staff. This again led to chuckles among the legislators.
Congress MLA Wajib Ali said that in Mewat region, some posts have been vacant for 2.5 years. Rajakhera MLA Rohit Bohra asked for decentralisation of inter-state passes and industry-specific regulations.
A combative Jhalawar-Baran MP Dushyant Singh termed the mandi tax “anti-farmer.” He said that migrant labours are walking on NH 27 and NH 12 and they need food and trains. He also called for acceleration of drinking water works under Public Health Engineering Department.
Some MLAs, however, had to be cut off. For example, when it came to BJP MLA Madan Dilawar’s turn, Gehlot said, “Netaji, bahut he short and sweet,” which again amused the legislators. The MLA said, “I don’t have many issues, just 8-10.” The MLA from Kota’s Ramganj Mandi said there was immense mismanagement in Kota and accused the Gehlot government of bias, saying the CM is “under pressure” as there is no action by police is some areas.
Dilawar said the condition of quarantine centres has led to spread of virus as “20-30 people are in one quarantine centre.” As he became increasingly political, Transport Minister Pratap Singh said that some MLAs are “lachaar (bound), they want something to be published in the newspapers against the government”.
Health Minister Raghu Sharma and Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore also had a minor face-off on the issue of screening, with Rathore — who was health minister in the Raje government — saying that the cases wouldn’t have increased so much if screening had been done properly.
Hanuman Beniwal-led Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, which has three MLAs, boycotted the conference, accusing the government of not paying heed to its demands regarding farmers, the unemployed and migrants.
In the end, Raje suggested that the video-conferencing be held regularly.
Meanwhile, with some divisions yet to be heard, the CM’s VC with MLAs and MPs — which was suspended on Monday on account of CM’s VC with the Prime Minister — will resume Tuesday.
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