Rare Congress-BJP deal saw key bills through

Written by: IANS
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New Delhi, Sept 8: It took the personal intervention of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who spoke to opposition leader Sushma Swaraj, to get several key bills passed in the monsoon session of Parliament which ended on Saturday.

Among these, the food security bill which promises subsidised grains to 800 million Indians and the land acquisition and rehabilitation bill which allows fair compensation to those whose land is taken for big projects, are seen as pro-poor. They could fetch rich dividends for the Congress in the assembly polls this year end and the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Sonia spoke to leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj mid-session when the Congress floor managers appeared to be helpless against an aggressive opposition which closed ranks and blocked Sonia's pet food bill on Aug 20, the birthday of her late husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

As a result, things became easier for the Congress floor managers in the following week when both the food and land bills sailed through the lower house of parliament.

In between the Congress managers succeeded in convincing the opposition parties to have the session extended by a week beyond the scheduled Aug 30 date for the end of the session, citing pending legislation.

Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal said: "There was consensus among parties on the food bill. The BJP disrupted the house but finally agreed to support the bill after we were able to convince it. They did not want to be seen as anti-food or land bills."

But a problem surfaced in the last week as the land bill was to be taken up in the upper house where the ruling alliance is in a minority.

The main opposition party, the BJP, was adamant that it would not let the house function till Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke on the missing files related to the alleged coal blocks allocations scam.

As Sonia Gandhi had already flown to the US for a medical check up, the Prime Minister stepped in to strike a deal with the BJP leadership, citing the likely fallout of an impending US strike on war-torn Syria.

As part of the deal, the opposition got to raise the coal blocks issue in the lower house and the government managed to pass not only the land bill in the upper house but also one related to reforms in the pension sector, which had been stuck in parliament for several years.

The last week turned out to be the most productive and saw the passage of two social sector bills, one to protect street vendors and the other to eradicate manual scavenging, as the BJP played more friend than foe of the Congress.

Monsoon session of Parliament ended on Saturday.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said: "We played a crucial role in the passage of the food bill as we follow the concept of food security for the poor. Our governments are doing it in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. On the land bill, our MP Sumitra Mahajan, who heads the standing committee on it, addressed the key issues. These suggestions were incorporated by the government."

Though many in the Congress said the opposition supported the key bills as it did not want to be seen as anti-poor and anti-reform in the poll season, a section in the ruling party lauded the BJP for its "cooperation."


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