New Delhi, Dec 14: A united opposition that emerged in the Rajya Sabha in the first half of the winter session may appear divided with the Congress sending signals in favour of the insurance bill; yet troubles are far from over for the Narendra Modi government in the upper house of parliament where it is in a minority.
The ruling NDA has only 59 members in the Rajya Sabha against 69 of the Congress alone. House proceedings have suffered in a major way with the opposition forming a bloc against the government.
It was but natural that the productivity fell in the upper house as it stood at 72 percent, by the end of the third week of this session, compared to 99 percent of the Lok Sabha. On top of that it lost four days to protests.
If indications are to be beleived the coming days will continue to remain tumultuous.
The government plans to push the insurance bill, a bill to amend companies law and another to amend the Lokpal bill for changes in the process of appointing CBI chief along with other crucial ones. The current session is to end Dec 23. It began Nov 24.
The opposition focus, as of now, appears to be on a motion to roll back the two successive excise duty hikes, with both the Congress and other opposition parties likely to back it -- a move that could put the government in the dock.
"If a motion on excise duty comes for vote, we'll support it," Congress leader Rajeev Shukla told IANS.
Two motions have been admitted in the upper house in this regard -- one by Trinamool Congress leader Sukhendu Shekhar Roy and the other by Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury -- for the annulment of a notification to hike the excise duty on petrol and diesel.
This duty hike is the fifth major issue over which all major opposition parties, including some adversaries like the Left and the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, and even the DMK and the AIADMK, were seen to be on the same page during the winter session.
First was on black money, where the government was questioned over its poll promise of getting it back within 100 days. The second on the controversial remarks of Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti. Third, on eulogising of Mahatma Gandhi's killer Nathuram Godse. And the fourth over conversions.
The situation seemed similar on the insurance bill which hikes the foreign equity cap to 49 percent from 26 percent, while calling for the management control in these companies to remain within Indian shores.
The Congress has backed the report by the BJP's Chandan Mitra-led panel. Congress party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi even said his party was, "in principle", not opposed to the bill. But some opposition members said the issue was far from over.
"What is the Congress position on economic issues, like the insurance bill, remains to be seen," Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D. Raja told IANS. "It will be clear on Monday. They may even support the bill as it was brought by them originally," said the Left leader.
But there does appear to be a division within the Congress, albeit in hushed tones.
"Some leaders, ours included, feel that supporting the bill will be handing over a victory to the government. In principle, we have nothing against it. After all, it was our party which tabled the bill," a senior Congress leader told IANS on condition of anonymity.
"But a final decision will be taken only once we see what exactly the government has prepared and how many of the panel's suggestions have been accommodated," the Congress leader said, referring to what has been the final call taken on it by the cabinet.
CPI-M's P. Rajeeve also said while the Congress may back the BJP on this bill, the opposition will remain united on the issue of secularism.
"On economic issues, we know the Congress and the BJP have been on the same page. But when it comes to secularism and countering communal forces, I'm sure its members will be with the rest of the opposition," said Rajeeve, who was also a member of the select panel on the insurance bill.
The Left leader said his party will table some amendments in the upper house.
Along with the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal-United and the Trinamool Congress have submitted dissent notes on the bill report and are set to oppose it in the house.
Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), on the other hand, did not oppose the select committee's report, but will not support it in the house, highly placed sources in the party said. "We are going to oppose the bill during the debate," a senior BSP leader told IANS.
"Whether we will vote against it, or walk out, will be decided by our party chief."
Among the opposition parties, the SP has 15 members, the Trinamool Congress and the JD-U have 12 each, the CPI-M has nine, CPI two, NCP six and the Rashtriya Janata Dal one.