Speculation Rife About Winter Session Of Parliament Being Curtailed Due To Gujarat Elections
The two phase crucial assembly elections in Gujarat next month (December), the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has put the Centre in a bind about curtailing the Winter session of Parliament. There is no instance of junking it. Though no formal announcement has been made about the dates so far, there is speculation of a short session being convened later this month.
The poll in Gujarat is scheduled for December ninth and fourteenth. This will be followed by the simultaneous counting of votes of both the assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat on December 18.
The ostensible reason is to allow politicians and other party leaders to tour Gujarat to pep up support amid growing reports that the BJP is facing a tough time because of widespread disappointment among the small and medium businesses on account of the GST coupled with the widespread distress caused to the farmers.
Earlier this week the Congress had demanded that the winter session of Parliament be convened immediately and asked the Modi government not to weaken the country’s glorious democratic tradition on the pretext of assembly elections. “…Let not the assembly election in one state or the other become an excuse for the government to run away from facing Parliament. It is not about the government or the opposition, it is about the people as Parliament represents the soul of demoracy,” emphasised Manish Tiwari of the Congress.
The notification for the winter session of Parliament should have been issued by now in the normal course. As it has not been done so far there is avoidable confusion in the polity. Parliament has met by and large for 20-day winter session beginning in the second half of November.
The Centre’s ambivalence is creating serious doubts. There has to be a 15-day gap between the notification and the start of the session. Questions are being asked if this is another instance of the BJP leadership not giving Parliament the importance it deserves in convening the winter session along with side stepping the opposition.
It may be recalled that the one-day polling in Himachal Pradesh concluded on November ninth. The meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs can be convened at short notice for issuing the necessary notification convening the winter session of Parliament.
There is discernible apprehension in ruling circles that the opposition is gearing up its loins to put the government on the mat connected with last November’s demonetisation fiasco coupled with the poor and hurried implementation of the GST from the first of July this year.
Even though the winter session of Parliament has never been dropped, the question doing the rounds is about the Centre giving it a go by this time around. At the same time a determined opposition is keen to pin down the Modi government on the failure of demonetisation and the goof up connected with implementing the GST.
This can lead to disruptions both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha sending contrary signals in poll bound Gujarat with the ruling BJP already under considerable pressure.
The Lotus party has been in power in Gandhinagar on the trot for for no less than 22 years. The signficance of the Prime Minister being associated with the selection of candidates for the Gujarat elections this time cannot be overlooked.
The relevance of Parliament in a democratic system cannot be undermined. In the overall scheme of things the number of sittings of both the Houses of Parliament has steadily declined to 60-70 annually which has been causing concern. This despite the understanding reached that Parliament should meet at least for a hundred days every year.
The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have been witness to the MPs exercising their lung power in a vain bid to be heard above the din in pilloring the Centre. Major legislative matters are being approved in Committees rather than the provisions being dissected and debated purposefully on the floor of the House.
For shaping of proper policies it has become necessary to have a free, frank and interruption free debates in both the Houses of Parliament. The increasing trend of one-upmanship in the polity has been a major factor leading to disruptions and frequent adjournments not only in Parliament but state assemblies as well.
It may be recalled Attorney General K K Venugopal had told the court in July that NRIs could not be allowed to vote by merely changing the rules made under the Representation of the People Act. Recently, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that a Bill to amend the electoral law to allow Non-Resident Indians to vote through postal or e-ballots would be introduced in the upcoming winter session of Parliament.
It is not the first time that assembly elections are being held in the country coinciding with the winter session of Parliament. And it is unlikely to be the last time. The ball is in the court of the Prime Minister. It is for the BJP led NDA government to convene the winter session of Parliament so that it is not accused of deliberately giving a go by to established Parliamentary practices.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)