New Delhi: Ahead of the Parliament session, the government will hold a meeting with leaders of all parties on Sunday to brief them and hear their views, amid an intense buzz on whether it will have some surprise item up its sleeve during the five-day sitting.
The unusual timing of the session, which begins on Monday, has left everyone wondering, even though the main standout feature on the listed agenda is a special discussion on Parliament’s journey of 75 years starting from the “‘Samvidhan Sabha” (Constituent Assembly).
The government has also listed the bill on the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other election commissioners to be taken up for consideration and passage during the session. The bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha during the last Monsoon session.
Announcing the all-party meeting, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said the government would be sending out letters to all major parties to invite them. “An all-party floor leaders’ meeting has been convened on the 17th at 4.30 pm. The invitation for the same has been sent to concerned leaders through email. Letter to follow,” Joshi posted on X.
Sources said the agenda is set to include issues over which there is a larger consensus, leaving the Opposition in a dilemma and exposing divides within. The biggest buzz is over a women’s reservation Bill to provide quota for women in Parliament and Assemblies, apart from a proposal to reinstate statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.
The Opposition would have little ground to attack the government on either issue.
The J&K move will also help the government ward off the heat from the Supreme Court, which recently asked the Centre whether it had a time frame to restore statehood to the region, while hearing pleas challenging the abrogation of Article 370.
The women’s Bill is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated emphasis on Naari Shakti, while talking about his government’s schemes for women, such as Ujjwala Yojana, toilet-building mission and Jal Jeevan programme. The BJP sees women voters as a game changer in the Indian electoral scene, and with their turnout on the rise, surpassing men in some state elections, believes they were one of the reasons for its massive win in Uttar Pradesh elections last year.
On Wednesday, in another pro-women move, the Union Cabinet cleared a grant of Rs 1,650 crore to oil marketing companies for the rollout of ‘Ujjwala 2.0’, under which 75 lakh new LPG connections would be provided over three years.
Last week, Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar said the day was not far when women would get their “due representation” in the country’s legislatures, and on Wednesday, President Droupadi Murmu called for more representation of women in politics at a speech in the Gujarat Assembly.
Sources close to the Rashtrapati Bhavan said Murmu’s speech was not linked to the government’s plans, and that the President has always called for more women representation in all sectors, including legislatures.
In another indication of the focus on women by the BJP, its Mahila Morcha national executive meeting held in Guwahati last week emphasised the importance of reaching out to them, ahead of the coming Assembly and 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
While most parties in the I.N.D.I.A. bloc are in favour of women’s reservation, it could run into some tension when it comes to the Samajwadi Party and RJD. The two parties, with their strong caste bases, want “quota within the quota”, or caste- and community- based quotas within the reservation block for women. “Parties like the Congress would have difficulties with that,” an Opposition leader admitted.
At the ministers’ meeting held Wednesday, there was talk about the issues the Opposition might raise to attack the government, such as the apparent push to refer to the country as Bharat instead of India, as well as plans for Uniform Civil Code, and one nation-one poll. Sources said it was suggested that the government should counter that by questioning the Opposition over its stand on the Sanatan Dharma row.
A constitutional amendment Bill to provide reservation to women first came up for discussion before Parliament in September 1996, but was torpedoed by regional parties then, and in 1998, 1999 and 2010. In 1998, the Vajpayee government introduced a women’s quota Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha but lapsed once the short-lived government fell and the House was dissolved.
On Wednesday, the Opposition again slammed the government for the ambiguity over the special session agenda. “Today is September 13th. The five-day Special Session of Parliament will commence five days from now and nobody – barring One Man (ok, perhaps the Other One too) – has any sense of the agenda,” Jairam Ramesh, the Congress general secretary in-charge of communications, posted on X.
TMC Parliamentary Party leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O’Brien posted: “TWO working days to go before the #SpecialParliamentSession begins and still not a word on the agenda Only TWO people know! And we still call ourselves a parliamentary democracy.”