Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly exhorting his party MPs to attend Parliament, the ruling BJP could not muster adequate numbers to thwart Opposition designs to a politically significant Constitutional Amendment bill in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. The lack of numbers forced the government to drop a crucial clause from the bill granting constitutional status to the National Commission on Backward Classes (NCBC). The Opposition had moved amendments, which were passed by its 74 votes against the NDA’s 52. It resulted in an unprecedented situation, as a clause, for which an amendment is passed by a simple majority, cannot become part of a Constitution Amendment Bill. It requires a two-third majority of those present in the House.
As such, the lack of numbers is an embarrassment for the NDA, which commands at least 78 MPs in the Upper House. This does not include the 10 members of the Janata Dal (United), which has broken ranks from the Opposition. The development also assumes significance in the wake of Prime Minister’s directive, in the last Parliamentary party meeting on July 25, where he had asked his MPs to be present when parliamentary proceedings were on. Addressing them during the Budget session, the Prime Minister had expressed his unhappiness over the repeated lack of quorum in Parliament. He had told them it was “mandatory” for every MP to be present in the House during the sessions and that he would call them any time he wanted.
BJP sources said the Prime Minister and the party chief Amit Shah have taken “serious note” of the “attitude” of the MPs as well as “failure” of the floor managers. The PM is not likely to address party MPs at the scheduled parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday, as he is to leave for Assam to visit the flood-hit areas, but Shah is expected to be present, sources said.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar , a Lok Sabha member, was not present in the House at the time of voting, despite the fact that the PM has taken keen interest in the passage of the bill. The task was left to junior Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
The Opposition was quick to rub it in. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said: “The government was totally unprepared and nonchalant. It did not even have full strength. A constitutional amendment is serious business. The government (was) not at all serious.”
The passage of the bill, which would have created a NCBC with constitutional status, was expected to reap political dividend for the BJP in the upcoming elections in Rajasthan and Gujarat and help it make inroads in the southern states. where it has launched a South Mission to expand its base. The OBC population play a key role in the electoral politics of the southern states. The estimated OBC population in the country is 52 per cent.