New Delhi: With a tumultuous Parliament session ending with unruly scenes, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Friday said the Chair in both Houses was ‘not as neutral as it should be’ and asserted that the last-day pandemonium in Rajya Sabha started because the government tried to pass a legislation by ‘stealth’ while going back on its words.
Chidambaram also questioned the absence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah from debates during the session and alleged that the ‘two-man army’ BJP government has ‘scant respect’ for Parliament and if the ‘two gentlemen have their way, they will lock down Parliament’.
In an interview with PTI, the former Union minister also asserted that with patience, further conversations and meetings, he is absolutely certain the difficulties in forging Opposition unity to take on the BJP in 2024 general elections shall be overcome and it will be a reality well before the polls.
The Monsoon session of Parliament was curtailed by two days on Wednesday. Just before the Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die, opposition MPs jostled with marshals in the well of the House when they were trying to move towards the Chair and the treasury benches.
While the government and the ruling BJP have blamed the Congress and other opposition parties for disruptions, the opposition leaders have accused the ruling dispensation of running away from debate on issues like Pegasus snooping allegations and contentious farm laws. For Wednesday’s ruckus in Rajya Sabha also, the ruling party has put the blame on opposition leaders while several leaders from Congress and some other parties alleged that opposition members including some women MPs were manhandled.
Asked about the ruckus in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday and the government fielding eight ministers to accuse the Opposition of disrupting the Monsoon session, Chidambaram said the pandemonium was created by the government going back on its word that after the Constitution amendment bill on the OBC reservation was passed by the House, it will be adjourned sine die. The Opposition had made it clear that it was opposed to passing the bill to amend the general insurance laws which would pave the way for privatisation of all general insurance companies and that it should be referred to a select committee of Parliament, he said.
Chidambaram, a Rajya Sabha member and part of the Congress’ strategy group in the House, said that since there was no agreement on that issue between the government and the Opposition, it was agreed that the bill will not be taken up in this session of Parliament. ‘But after the Constitution amendment bill was passed unanimously, the government tried to rush through the general insurance amendment bill and one or two other bills. This is a continuation of the BJP’s practice of passing legislation by stealth,’ he said.
Naturally, the opposition was infuriated and opposed the government vehemently, he said.
‘The chair, I am afraid, and I am sorry to say this, did not play a neutral role and therefore there was pandemonium in Parliament, but the starting point of the pandemonium was the government’s attempt to pass legislation by stealth,’ Chidambaram alleged.
Asked about Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu expressing disappointment with the behaviour of Opposition members during the session and the Opposition raising questions about the neutrality of the Chair, the senior Congress leader said, ‘We are increasingly driven to the conclusion, and I say this with a heavy heart and great regret, that the Chair is not as neutral as it should be and the Chair does not reflect the sense of the House.’ The House consists of both the treasury benches and the opposition benches and the Chair should reflect the sense of the whole House and not just one side or the other, he asserted.
On the government rejecting Opposition’s criticism of passage of bills amid the din, stating that it also happened in the UPA era, Chidambaram said this ‘whataboutery’ must come to an end. In the UPA era, the prime minister and the home minister attended both Houses, they answered questions in Parliament, they took part in debates and offered clarifications on statements, he said. Chidambaram said that in this whole session, the prime minister and the home minister were ‘absent’, did not answer a single question and did not participate in any debate.
‘This shows that the two-man army, which is the BJP government, has scant respect for Parliament. If these two gentlemen have their way, they will lock down Parliament,’ he alleged.
Asked about Parliament not discussing the Pegasus snooping row and the parliamentary panel on information technology not being able to take up the issue with BJP members denying the panel a quorum in its last meeting, Chidambaram said the Supreme Court is the only hope. ‘The government has a huge guilty conscience which is why the moment the word Pegasus is uttered, the government runs for cover and the government resorts to all kinds of strategies to shut out a debate on Pegasus, but Pegasus cannot be suppressed forever,’ he said. One by one skeleton will tumble out of the cupboard, as they are, in France, Israel, Germany and other countries. Newspapers around the world will report on the new revelations, the senior Congress leader said.
‘I hope the Supreme Court will take up the issue of Pegasus and order an inquiry,’ he added.
Asked if with the Opposition unity on display during the Monsoon session — be it Rahul Gandhi’s breakfast meeting, Kapil Sibal’s dinner or floor coordination — seeds of an alliance to take on the BJP in 2024 have been sown, Chidambaram said it was the ‘beginning of the beginning’. ‘We are still in the early days but my conversations with opposition leaders clearly point to the fact that every opposition leader is convinced that the Opposition must present a United front,’ he said.
On Thursday, as the government fielded a battery of eight ministers at a news conference to take on the opposition over the ruckus in Parliament, the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha expressed deep concern over the ‘disruptive behaviour’ of some MPs and felt such actions should not be tolerated.
Opposition leaders also marched in protest against the government on several issues, including the Pegasus snooping row, the three farm laws and alleged manhandling of their MPs in Rajya Sabha, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi saying the voice of people was crushed in Parliament and democracy was ‘murdered’.