Rahul Gandhi, who would soon be elevated as Congress president, is expected to be the biggest critic of the government in Parliament.
On November 2, when the Delhi Police detained Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi while he was trying to meet the family of Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal—an ex-serviceman who allegedly committed suicide citing delays in implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP)—the BJP sensed the pension issue could dent its election campaign in the five states going to the polls early next year. Soon, phone calls were made to BJP-friendly former Army generals—who were regular on television debates as defence experts—to counter criticism on implementation of the pension scheme.
Gandhi was again detained—three times in two days—along with other MPs, such as Deepender Hooda and Jyotiraditya Scindia, as they tried to meet the family. The police also detained Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for several hours. With this, the opposition had found an issue to corner the government in the month-long winter session of Parliament starting November 16. The mainstay of the attack, however, is expected to be the problems faced by ordinary people because of the demonetisation.
The Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party would press the government to debate demonetisation and the resultant cash shortage before transacting any business. On November 11, Gandhi stood in a queue outside a bank to show his solidarity with the people who had come to exchange their money. He is expected to lead the charge in Parliament, and he could be supported by other parties. The Left parties and the Aam Aadmi Party have already accused the government of leaking the demonetisation decision to certain people.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to counter any offensive by questioning their motives for not supporting this anti-corruption move. BJP leaders told THE WEEK that they would ask whether these parties were siding with the corrupt and black money holders. For the government, the twin “surgical strikes”—on terrorist camps and on black money—would be the major talking points. These issues are also high on the BJP agenda for the state elections.
Other issues likely to generate heat include the pollution in Delhi, the announcement of a one-day ban on an NDTV channel, triple talaq, the jailbreak and shooting of eight Students' Islamic Movement of India undertrials, and the disappearance of Jawaharlal Nehru University student Najeeb Ahmed. With the elections in Uttar Pradesh due in May, the BSP and the Samajwadi Party are expected to be aggressive in Parliament. On triple talaq, BSP president Mayawati has accused the government of interfering in affairs of Muslims. Like her, the Trinamool Congress, too, would raise the issue.
The government’s key agenda, meanwhile, would be to pass the Central Goods and Service Tax Bill, Integrated Goods and Service Tax Bill and GST (compensation for loss of revenue) Bill. To get these bills passed, the government would likely accede to opposition demands for discussions on any issue. Though it will not push for any debate on national security, it would not shy away from talking about the surgical strikes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi might intervene to send out a strong message to the country, especially the poll-bound states.
Gandhi, who would soon be elevated as his party's president, is expected to be the biggest critic of the government in Parliament. His aggression was visible in the Congress Working Committee meeting on November 7. “In recent months, our jawans have suffered the highest casualties in decades,” he said. “They are being cruelly 'rewarded' by a callous government with denial of OROP and cut in disability pensions. We must in every forum, in particular the upcoming session of Parliament, expose the government’s failures.”
As states like UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab have high representation in the armed forces, the opposition would look to puncture the BJP’s surgical strike euphoria. “False claims, chest thumping and jingoism have no place in mature democracy, especially on matters concerning the defence of the country,” said the CWC resolution.
Said Congress general secretary Ambika Soni: “They arrested our leader three times. Is this the way you treat an important leader of the opposition? They cannot tolerate criticism and they want to create an atmosphere of fear.”
On the decision to ban NDTV India for a day, Gandhi said: “Television channels are punished and asked to shut down. The opposition is being arrested for holding the government to account.”
However, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told THE WEEK: “Rahul and Kejriwal are competing between themselves about who is champion of political drama (on OROP). It is the competitive politics among them that is harming them. There have been discussions on OROP several times in the past, but ours was the government that did something about it. Otherwise, nothing was done in the past 40 years. Now, after we have done something, they are debating if we have paid two rupees, one and a half rupees or half a rupee. If they raise it in parliament, we would answer it.”
BJP has said that most of the Army men were getting OROP benefits, and the few who had problems were being taken care of.
Another pertinent issue is the SIMI encounter in Bhopal, which has left several unanswered questions. The Congress and Left parties have decided to seek answers from the government. However, the government might not allow a discussion as it is a state subject.