The Congress and other opposition parties may join two key debates on the President’s speech and the Union Budget after launching protests over three farm laws inside and outside Parliament, according to people aware of the developments.
The Opposition’s participation, however, may not come without frequent disruptions and protests, at least three leaders said after the all-party meeting a day before the presentation of the Union Budget.
Parties such as the Congress, Trinamool Congress and Left outfits have prepared to push an adjournment motion on the farm issue on the morning of February 2, before a debate on the President’s speech, to amplify their stand on the issue, a leader said on condition of anonymity.
At the third and last all-party meeting on Sunday over the Budget Session, the government’s managers suggested that the opposition parties can raise all issues related to the farm laws during the debate on the President’s speech and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he intervenes in the debate, would reply to them, another leader said. Among other senior ministers, defence minister Rajnath Singh is expected to speak in the debate, he added.
At Sunday’s meeting, convened by Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu, six ministers and 25 leaders of various parties were present. A press statement said: “Chairman Naidu today made a fervent appeal to leaders of various parties to ensure effective functioning of the House during the ongoing budget session. In response, the leaders assured that there will be full participation in all the debates and discussions in the House.”
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The Opposition, however, plans to corner the government on the issue of the three contentious farm laws. “We will press for a separate debate on the farm issue given the gravity of the situation. But the government wants to tackle the issue in the President’s speech debate only. This might lead to another flashpoint,” another leader said, asking not to be named.
Thousands of farmers have hunkered down at the Capital’s borders for more than two months to protest against the three farm laws that they say will erode their bargaining power, weaken a system of assured prices, and leave them vulnerable to exploitation by big agri businesses. The government has maintained that the laws aim to ease restrictions on farm trade by setting up free markets, allow traders to stockpile large stocks of food for future sales and lay down a framework for contract farming.
On Republic Day, farmer groups broke through barricades, clashed with the Delhi Police and stormed the Red Fort, hoisting a religious flag, on its ramparts. The PM has said law will take its own course over the violence. Farmer leaders sought to distance themselves from the violence, but police have named several of them in FIRs.
At the meeting, while Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke on the farmers issue, Congress chief whip Jairam Ramesh pointed out that on September 17 last year, Naidu asked the government to give a briefing on the India-China border situation but no such meeting took place. Naidu asked parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi to address the issue.
Meanwhile, upcoming assembly elections are also set to find political space in the debate on the President’s speech. As per the current schedule, first-time BJP MP from West Bengal, Locket Chatterjee, will initiate the debate to send a political message to the voters of Bengal. The President’s speech to the joint sitting of the House, too, had prominent references about poll-bound Assam, Bengal and Kerala.