Budget session set for a stormy start

Lok Sabha (File) The proceedings in Lok Sabha is disrupted due to protests by the members.

The Budget session of Parliament is all set for a stormy start on Tuesday with major opposition parties planning to corner the government on JNU and other issue as Congress President Sonia Gandhi accused it of launching a planned attack on freedom of expression and right to differ.

Indications of a tumultuous beginning of the session emerged at the all-party meetings convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu with the Opposition accusing the government of "setting the agenda for disruption".

Also at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, Gandhi put the onus on the government for the smooth functioning of Parliament.

She declared her intent to rope in "like-minded parties" to target the ruling dispensation on issues like the JNU row, dalit scholar Rohit Vemula's suicide in Hyderabad University and Pathankot terror attack.

On its part, the government assured opposition leaders that they will not find it wanting in ensuring discussion on any issue of concern.

"The government is as much concerned about these issues as any other party and we are more than keen for a detailed discussion on all of them," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Naidu said.

After her meeting with leaders, which was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mahajan hoped that the House will run smoothly and all issues to be discussed will be decided on Tuesday at a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee.

The first showdown between the ruling and the opposition benches is expected in Rajya Sabha on February 24, the first working day of the session when the JNU issue could come up for discussion.

While the opposition has closed ranks to corner the government on it, BJP feels it stands to gain by turning the debate into one between "patriots and anti-nationals," as a party leader said.

At the CWC meet, Gandhi accused the Modi government of having "lost all sense of balance" and undermining democratic norms over the JNU row, making it clear that Congress will take up the issue aggressively along with like-minded parties.

"The ruling establishment seems to have lost all sense of balance, and of proportion. It appears determined to undermine all democratic norms. It seems hell-bent to destroy the spirit of inquiry, the spirit of questioning, the spirit of debate and dissent.

"First, it muzzled our voice in the Lok Sabha. Then it silenced civil society activists and organisations. Now is the turn of universities," Gandhi said at the Congress Working Committee meeting.

In a statement, the CWC meeting, attended by party vice president Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, lamented that Constitutional values and democratic norms are under "systematic assault".

"What has happened in a leading institution of higher learning and in similar institutions, and the violence and hooliganism that happened in a court in the nation's capital has shocked the nation", it said.

After the all-party meet called by Naidu, Opposition leaders dismissed it as a mere "formality" and lamented that the Prime Minister and the BJP have not taken action against a single leader making "provocative" statements, and put the ball in the government's court for smooth running of the House.

Making it clear that Opposition will not allow passage of any key bill in the first half of the session, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said opposition will "on merit" allow the passage of only those bills on which there is general consensus.

"Contentious bills should not be brought. Bring only those bills on which there is a general agreement. Bills like GST will not come in the first half of the session," Kharge said.

The meeting saw a number of opposition and BJP leaders demanding an early debate on the JNU row with CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury saying the current situation drew a "chilling parallel" with the rise of fascism in Germany.

"The government is setting the agenda for Parliament's disruption even before its session has begun. We have seen this agenda of BJP for last three-four sessions. The government creates a situation in the country that is responsible for disruption," he said.

In indications that the government is reaching out separately to non-Congress and non-Left parties, Naidu said a number of small parties and regional parties feel that they were not getting adequate time to raise their issues due to disruptions in Parliament.

When Opposition members asked the government to hold all-party meetings on key issues like GST, Naidu said these do not serve purpose and government will instead prefer one-on-one deliberations.

Debunking the ruling party charge that Congress was blocking Parliament, Gandhi hit back saying "the problem is not with us, it is with the government which refuses to accept that the democratic right of the Opposition is to raise burning public issues for debate and discussion".

"It is the government's responsibility to ensure that Parliament functions," he said.

Holding the government responsible for non-functioning of Parliament in the last two sessions, Azad said the government and the ruling party have failed to take any action on the issues raised by the opposition over controversial statements made by BJP leaders.

The government has prioritised 32 business items for the Budget session beginning tomorrow which include 11 bills pending in Rajya Sabha and one in the Lok Sabha.

Financial business includes eight items relating to Railway and General Budgets and the Budget of Arunachal Pradesh covering Finance Bill and Appropriation Bills pertaining to 2016-17 and Supplementary Demands for Grant.

Upping the ante on the JNU row, Yechury said, "There was manufactured evidence (in Germany, which led to) burning of Reichstag building, which all ended with the end of World War II. Similarly, there is manufactured row in JNU. Manufactured evidences were given.

"Those, who are responsible for this are moving free. There is lot of talk about nationalism over the JNU row. It is very similar to the nationalism that Hitler used, to come to power," Yechury said.

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