WHILE Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is away on a “leave of absence”, his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi, who had taken a backseat in the recent past, has once again taken on the responsibility of leading the party from the front and giving it direction, both inside parliament and outside.
On Tuesday, Sonia surprised everyone by initiating the discussion on the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Amendment Bill, 2015, in the Lok Sabha. She targeted the BJP-led government for failing to fulfill the commitment made to the people of Andhra Pradesh during the bifurcation of the state.
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And later in the day, Sonia led a march of 14 opposition parties from parliament to Rashtrapati Bhawan to protest against the government’s move to amend the 2014 Land Acquisition Act.
“We have come together to oppose the Narendra Modi government’s amendments to the right of fair compensation and transparency in Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation resettlement act 2013. “All the progressive, secular, democratic and forward looking forces are determined to defeat the Modi government’s design to promote divisions and social disharmony.
“We have come to the President to request him to intervene to protect the interest of our farmers and to impress upon Modi government not to go ahead with the amendments in the Rajya Sabha. These are some of the reasons for which we have come here,” Gandhi told the media after the delegation met the President.
JD-U leader Sharad Yadav, coordinator for the march, declared that it will be a fight to finish as the bill “is not only anti-farmer but also anti India”. “Country farmers have made us independent, we cannot snatch their right. This is going to be ‘aar-paar’ (do or die) battle; We have sounded the bugle for the war,” said Yadav.
Earlier, participating in a discussion in the house for the first time in this Lok Sabha, Sonia said the people of Andhra Pradesh were “deeply anguished over the apathy” being shown to them by the NDA government, and were beginning to feel that they were being “taken for granted”.
She said the government was not showing “the same sense of urgency” in fulfilling other key commitments made to the people of the state who have been “waiting patiently for over nine months”, as it was in bringing in a bill to increase the number of members in the Andhra Pradesh legislative council from 50 to 58.
“While fulfilling the long-pending demand for formation of a separate state of Telangana, the Indian National Congress was equally and strongly committed to protecting and promoting the interests of the successor state of Andhra Pradesh and to ensuring its rapid development… But it is disappointing to find that the government has not shown any interest in fulfilling these commitments. This is even more perplexing given that the BJP and TDP are in coalition at the Centre and the state,” said Sonia, adding that the government was “sadly” not doing anything substantial for funding a new state capital.
Sonia also pointed out that then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured the Rajya Sabha that Andhra Pradesh would be granted special category status. Addressing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sonia said she had written to him twice, requesting him to “speed up the implementation of the commitments” made to Andhra Pradesh, and urged him to give “personal and immediate attention” to the matter.
During Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu’s intervention in the debate, Sonia was seen reacting to his statements.
At around 5:15 pm, Sonia walked out of parliament to lead over a hundred opposition MPs in a protest march to Rashtrapati Bhawan against the land acquisition bill.
On Monday, the Congress president also met leaders of the Indian Youth Congress who participated in a rally against the bill, and those who were injured during clashes with the police.
In a significant show of solidarity for former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week, Sonia also led a march of top party leaders from 24, Akbar Road to Singh’s Motilal Nehru Marg residence. Singh was made an accused and summoned by a Delhi special court in the Hindalco coal block allocation case.
While some Congress leaders have praised Sonia for her aggressive stand on the land bill, they have also questioned Rahul’s absence at such a crucial time, especially since the legislation was his pet project.
In parliament, Sonia is often seen encouraging young party MPs after their speeches and discussing floor strategy with senior leaders. When the Congress forced the government to defer the discussion on the Union Budget on Friday because of the absence of Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Sonia was seen constantly urging her party MPs to up the ante and not allow the government to begin the discussion.