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The Congress, and some other opposition parties, plan to embarrass the government by demanding a vote on one of the 324 amendments that they have moved to the motion of thanks to the President’s address.
According to a senior Congress leader, the Opposition parties would ask President’s address to the joint sitting of Parliament on January 29 be amended to insert a paragraph that the Narendra Modi government has “failed” to fulfill its commitment to provide jobs. In their speeches to the motion of thanks, Congress's Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha and Mallikarjun Kharge in the Lok Sabha have reminded the government of its promise to create 20 million jobs a year.
While the numbers in the Rajya Sabha would change when the next biennial election to a third of the 245-seats take place in April, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is currently way short of the majority mark. The biennial polls would help BJP, along with its allies, inch closer to the majority mark thanks to its successive wins in state assembly polls, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.
The opposition, however, is emboldened that BJP-led NDA’s numbers could dwindle in case of a vote in the Rajya Sabha since several of BJP’s allies are currently upset. There is a possibility, an opposition source said, that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal, might abstain from voting. In the past one week, all three have criticised the Modi government. On Tuesday, the TDP protested in both Houses to demand a special package for Andhra Pradesh. In the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, in his speech on the motion of thanks, Shiv Sena’s Anandrao Adsul said it seemed the government didn’t belong to the NDA anymore, but only to the BJP.
In 2015, and again in 2016, the opposition had combined together to successfully move amendments to the motion of thanks to the President’s address. The wins in the Rajya Sabha were largely symbolic. The government has a majority in the Lok Sabha and threw out the Rajya Sabha amendments in that House.
In 2016, the Leader of the Opposition and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad had moved an amendment expressing regret that the President’s address did not commit support to rights of all citizens to contest panchayat elections. It was carried.
In 2015, Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Sitaram Yechury had moved an amendment to insert a line on the Modi government’s failure to curb high-level corruption and bring back black money. It was also carried.
In 2017, the opposition had planned to move an amendment that demonetisation caused widespread pain and led to deaths of over a hundred people. However, the amendment was defeated as the opposition didn’t have numbers. The Congress had walked out in protest of Prime Minister Modi’s remarks on former prime minister Manmohan Singh. In his reply to the motion of thanks, the PM had said only Singh knows “the art of bathing in a bathroom with a raincoat on” as his image has remained clean even when there were many scams around him.
Amendments moved by the opposition range from farmer distress to lack of jobs. However, it is joblessness that the opposition is likely to push for a vote, particularly after the controversy over PM’s remarks about selling ‘pakodas’, which party chief Amit Shah defended in his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha during the debate on the motion of thanks on Monday.
CPI (M)’s TK Rangarajan, CP Narayanan, KK Ragesh and K Somaprasad want to insert that the President’s address did not mention growing unemployment and jobless growth in the country, and the government’s failure in providing employment.
Congress MP T Subbarami Reddy has also moved an amendment that the House regrets the President’s address did not mention about formulation of a comprehensive scheme for tackling growing unemployment and to create more employment opportunities in the rural areas.
Last week, 17 opposition parties had agreed to coordinate their parliamentary strategy. However, Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien said his party believes the office of the President is a constitutional post and should not be embarrassed. A Congress leader said the party was planning to reach out to all others on Wednesday.
Usually, opposition members withdraw their amendments on the express request of the government of the day and also as a mark of parliamentary cooperation. There have been five occasions, all in the Rajya Sabha, and two of these in the tenure of the Modi government, when the Opposition has voted to successfully amend the government’s motion of thanks. These were in 1980, 1989, 2001, 2015 and 2016.
Total strength of the Rajya Sabha: 245
Vacancies: 6 (Bihar 2, Kerala, Telangana, UP, WB 1 each)
Current strength: 239
NDA: 83 (BJP 58; JD (U) 7; TDP 6; Shiv Sena 3; SAD 3; PDP 2; RPI (A) 1; BPF 1; NPF 1; SDF 1)
Opposition: 99 (those likely to vote against the govt)
(Congress 54; SP 18; CPI (M) 7; NCP 5; DMK 4; RJD 3; AAP 3; IUML 1; JMM 1; CPI 1; JD (S) 1; Kerala Congress (M) 1)
Known to abstain on such votes: 43
(AIADMK 13; AITC 12; BJD 8; BSP 5; TRS 3; INLD 1; YSRCP 1)
Independents (6) and Nominated (8): 14 (most will support govt)