Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his customary remarks at an all-party meeting on the eve of the session on Sunday asserted that the government is ready to discuss every issue and exhorted everyone to make the Winter session as productive as the last one, when Parliament gave its nod to the bifurcation of the then state of Jammu and Kashmir and nullifying Article 370, besides several other important bills.
Opposition leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress, raised the continuing “illegal” detention of mainstream leaders in Jammu and Kashmir like Farooq Abdullah, who is also a Lok Sabha member, and said they will take up issues like economic slowdown and unemployment in the session, which ends on December 13.
After the BJP-led NDA left the opposition stunned in the last session by winning over independent regional parties, especially in Rajya Sabha where treasury benches lacked majority, and wooing a number of rival leaders to get a host of bills passed, the Congress-led grouping has some reasons to feel emboldened over recent political developments.
Its better than expected show in the recent assembly polls, BJP’s break in ties with Shiv Sena and reports of economic slowdown have put wind in the sails of opposition parties. The 18 Sena MPs in Lok Sabha and three in Rajya Sabha have now been allotted seats in the opposition rows after the party severed ties with its longtime ally BJP and is in talks with the Congress-NCP alliance to form government in Maharashtra.
Despite the setback, numbers favor the treasury benches with the BJP appearing determined to get Parliament’s approval on its legislative agenda that was stonewalled in the Modi government first term when opposition outnumbered it in the Upper House.
The government has listed Citizenship (amendment) Bill, a key BJP plank which is aimed at granting nationality to non-Muslim immigrants from neighbor countries, for passage in this session. The Modi government had introduced the bill in its previous tenure as well but could not push it through due to vehement protests by opposition parties, which criticized the bill as discriminatory on religious grounds.
The legislation seeks to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan if they have fled their respective country due to religious persecution.
There has been opposition to the bill in Assam and other Northeastern states, where most of these immigrants, mostly Hindus, have been living. The government also plans to seek Parliament’s nod to two crucial ordinances. An ordinance reducing corporate tax rate for new and domestic manufacturing companies to arrest slowdown in the economy and boost growth was issued in September to give effect to amendments in the Income Tax Act, 1961 and Finance Act, 2019.
The second ordinance, also issued in September, banned sale, manufacture and storage of e-cigarettes and similar products. This is the second Parliament session of the BJP-led NDA government which returned to power with a greater mandate in the recent Lok Sabha elections.