As the monsoon session ends, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma tells The Indian Express that the government wanted to push through its agenda and deny space to the Opposition and that the Opposition has collectively registered its concerns with Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu.
How was the session from the Opposition point of view?
The Opposition has been positive and honest on its commitment to ensure that Parliament functions and takes up legislation as well as important public issues. The government has not honoured that understanding. Because they wanted their agenda to be pushed through and the space, the Opposition in a Parliamentary democracy needs, has been denied. Legislative agenda is decided by the government but for calling attention and short duration discussions normally the Opposition notices are accepted. What we have seen in both the Houses… that has not happened. The government wants it entirely its own way. What has happened in Rajya Sabha is unfortunate, unfair and unprecedented, that the first calling attention motion is listed in the name of a BJP MP. And the important and serious issues like mob lynchings, was clubbed with social media rumours and disposed of in an hour where senior leaders of the Opposition were given only three-four minutes. Similarly, short duration discussion on a matter of national importance… the first priority cannot be the MSP announced by the government. That is political propaganda and listed in Amit Shah’s name.
The Opposition had plans to write to the chairman to convey its displeasure?
We collectively met the chairman. We decided to convey it in person. We were assured that our concerns have been registered. But too little too late because nothing tangible has been achieved. The government has stonewalled any mention, reference or discussion on a monumental defence scam – the Rafale jet purchase deal. It needs to be discussed and an in-depth independent inquiry by the JPC, which has the powers to summon all the authorities, agencies, officials, should be ordered. By a conservative estimate, about Rs 33,000 crore has been lost.
Why did you raise the issue at the fag end of the session? Why not earlier?
Our notices were there. In the last session, which was sabotaged by the government and its then allies, our notices were there. We gave notices again but they were not taken up. Yesterday and today my notices were not accepted.
But you chose to forcefully raise the issue in the House only in the last two days?
There were certain issues we wanted to be taken up. If you recall, on the first debate on the amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act, I had raised it.
Today, not many Opposition parties attended the protest on Rafale. When you raised the issue inside the House, only Congress members were on their feet.
We can speak for ourselves because we speak very strongly about it. The Left was also very much there, and some other parties. But each party has its own priorities. Some parties like SP had the Gorakhpur issue, which is an equally important issue for them. The TMC had some other issue. It does not mean that those parties are absolving the government of this big scam, where the personal accountability of the Prime Minister has to be ascertained. It is in the interest of the institution of the Office of Prime Minister that he comes clean on the issue because it was his arbitrary decision without cancelling the previous contract and without any authorisation from the Cabinet Committee on Security when he announced the purchase of the aircraft at more than three times the price, completely cutting out defence PSU HAL, which is the only company in India to have the expertise to manufacture aeroplanes and fighter aircraft.
The Cabinet cleared the triple talaq Bill yesterday. What is the Congress’s stand on it, since some of your demands have been accepted?
We made some suggestions. Some of them have been considered by the government. That point it is fine. But building consensus on the Bill is not the job of the principle Opposition party. The Congress is opposed to triple talaq and supports the Bill. There were certain infirmities on criminalisation and the extent and misuse where we had informed the government earlier. And they say they have addressed them, but nobody has read how much the concerns have been addressed. So you need to read them before you discuss and legislate. Today was the last day of Parliament. It was not correct to bring it on a private members’ day – and considered… taken up, the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die. One has to read it very clearly. They are using it to create a binary. They are not sincere themselves. Otherwise, they could have brought it a week earlier.
On the deputy chairman election, would the result have been different had you done your homework better?
We did our homework. But it was our back luck. We could have got 14 votes more. We could have finished at 118 or something. But there were some last-minute changes of mind. AAP did not vote for us. YSRCP and PDP had committed. Three of our own MPs – two for unavoidable reasons – were absent. We lost two votes including Kanimozhi because Karunanidhi was buried the previous day. So we were unlucky.
But you could have reached out to the BJD?
Only Naveen Patnaik can explain its stance. On one hand, they are fighting a bitter battle with the BJP, then why did they support? It is like Naveen Patnaik supporting B J Panda, who he has expelled.