Sunday, March 7, 2021

Opposition, Centre spar in Rajya Sabha over farm laws; Lower House still stalled

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Opposition MPs stood united in the Rajya Sabha on their demand that three contentious farm laws be repealed, during a debate on the President’s speech on Wednesday, with Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad telling the government that the “might of the farmers is the biggest force in the country and we cannot reach any conclusion by fighting with them”.

Speakers from the treasury benches, meanwhile, said that those opposing the laws were spreading “misinformation” among the farmers and “stoking fears”.

After a day of protests and disruptions in both Houses on Tuesday, the debate on the President’s speech started relatively smoothly in the Upper House on Wednesday, with all parties agreeing to suspend Question and Zero Hours to allot 15 hours for the discussion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to reply to the debate in the Upper House on Monday.

Also read: Government fends off global clamour on farm stir

Lok Sabha proceedings, however, were washed out for the second day as the Congress stuck to its demand for a separate debate on farm protests even as the government wanted to address the issue in the all-encompassing debate on the President’s speech. The opposition leaders held a meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss their strategy. According to two Congress MPs who asked not to be named, party leader Rahul Gandhi also held a separate discussion with some Congress leaders on the floor strategy.

Demanding repeal of the laws and restoration of statehood in Jammu & Kashmir, Azad said PM Modi, who was present in the House, is the only person who can find a solution to both the problems of Jammu & Kashmir and the farmers’ agitation.

“The logjam between the farmers and the government is not for the first time; it has been going on for hundreds of years that farmers have had to struggle for their rights — sometimes against feudalism and zamindari and sometimes against the government,” Azad said.

He condemned the violence and chaos during a tractor rally on January 26, when a section of farmers raised a Sikh religious flag at the Red Fort. “The whole Opposition and the Congress condemn the incident. It should have never happened; it is against democracy; it is against law and order. Those who were involved in this should be given strict punishment but at the same time those who are innocent should not be implicated,” Azad said, while also urging the PM to set up a committee to find out who are the people who had gone missing on January 26.

Initiating the discussions, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Assam, Bhuwaneswar Kalita, said the farm laws were passed after extensive discussions in Parliament and the Opposition “should not make the farmers agitation another Shaheen Bagh”. His reference was to an anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protest that began last year in the heart of Delhi and escalated into an occupy movement that lasted for over 100 days, cutting off an important arterial road in the Capital.

The ruling party has been alleging that the opposition parties have “stoked fears” about the new farm laws just as they did with CAA. The BJP leader reiterated an earlier speech by Modi and said “the benefits of these important farm laws have started reaching more than 10 crore people and small farmers” and told the House that “the doors are always open for farmers for discussion so that the issues can be resolved”.

Watch | ‘Fight China & Pakistan, not our farmers’: Ghulam Nabi Azad

The government has offered that the laws be put on hold for 18 months to facilitate discussions but farmers — tens of thousands of whom are camped at three Delhi entry points for over two months — have rejected the demand. Samajwadi Party MP Ram Gopal Yadav criticised the government for showing “insensitivity” towards the farmers. He said had the government agreed to send the bills to a standing committee, the crisis would have been averted. He also questioned why there was tight security on the Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri borders, and said that security there was tighter than at Parliament and the India-Pakistan border. “Are the farmers going to attack Delhi?” he asked.

BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh, Vijay Pal Singh Tomar, who seconded the motion, said those criticising the farm laws are spreading misinformation as the new laws only stand to help small and marginal farmers. He said the laws were passed after extensive deliberations and there have been 12 expert committees in the past two decades on farm reforms.

Biju Janata Dal MP Prasanna Acharya said the role of the police and the local administration and the farmers’ leaders needed to be questioned in the context of what happened on January 26, while DMK’s Thiruchi Siva said that the government came to power with a slogan of “minimum government, maximum governance” but what we have experienced is “minimum governance and maximum mishaps”.

Telangana Rashtra Samithi MP K Keshava Rao pressed for minimum support prices to be written in law, which is one of the demands of the farmers, while Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Elaram Kareem said the government policies were only intended to appease corporate firms.

He also said that farmer leaders were booked under fake charges for the incidents of January 26. Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu agreed to suspend question hour on Wednesday and Thursday, and private member’s bills on Friday, to make time for the discussion.

In the Lok Sabha, Speaker Om Birla was forced to repeatedly adjourn the House as MPs trooped to the Well, raised slogans and flashed placards, and demanded that the farmers’ issue be given top priority. Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the farmers’ agitation was harming the image of the country.

The Speaker insisted that the Question Hour must go on but Opposition members refused to relent, leading to the House being adjourned for the day after three attempts to begin proceedings. Modi, who customarily replies in the Lok Sabha first, is scheduled to address the Lower House on Friday.

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