Opposition parties are planning a joint offensive against the government to corner it in Parliament on issues of national security like the border situation with China, handling of the COVID pandemic, economy and GST compensation to states, sources said. Leaders of various opposition parties are expected to meet later this week to formulate a joint floor strategy in both the houses of Parliament, they said.
The Monsoon session of Parliament will commence on September 14 amid COVID-induced changes in its proceedings. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has convened a meeting of the party's strategy group on September 8, the sources said.
Opposition leaders are keen that various like-minded parties should work closely with each other to take on the government in Parliament. This was expressed by Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee, Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray and JMM's Hemant Soren at a recent meeting of non-NDA chief ministers with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on JEE/NEET and GST issues. The Congress strategy group has already met once and discussed the issues to be raised during the session.
Senior Congress leaders have also been asked to contact UPA allies and other like-minded parties to put up a united fight against the government, both inside and outside Parliament. TMC leader Derek O'Brien had earlier said that like-minded opposition parties will work together in Parliament and find common ground on public issues. There will be a lot of teamwork among such parties in Parliament, he had said.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said on Sunday that consultations are underway for a joint opposition strategy. CPI leader D Raja also said that meetings of opposition leaders will be soon held in this regard.
With tensions escalating in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control with China, the opposition will demand answers from the government on the issue. The rapid rise in the number of COVID 19 cases will also come up for discussion. The opposition will also raise the heat in Parliament on the row over social media giant Facebook and allegations that it is soft on ruling party members when it came to applying hate speech rules.
The holding of various examinations including the NEET will also come up for discussion in Parliament. The opposition has accused the government of risking the lives of students and youths by holding the exams at a time when coronavirus cases are rising every day. The Congress is also set to oppose the ordinances issued by the government in the recent past. The government has issued as many as 11 ordinances. Congress Chief Whip in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh, who is also the convenor of the strategy group, is learnt to have told the party leaders at the last strategy meeting about the merits and demerits of these ordinances, the sources said.
The leaders of opposition parties are likely to raise the issue of doing away with the Question Hour in this session. Officials have said that there will be no question hour and private members' bills, and the Zero Hour will be restricted. The Congress leaders in both houses will be writing to the Rajya Sabha chairman and the Lok Sabha Speaker seeking restoration of the Question Hour.
The Congress, the sources say, will demand short duration discussions and Calling Attention Motions on issues of Chinese aggression on India at the border, the economic slowdown and the collapse of GDP to record lows, unemployment and migrants' problems, besides on grant of GST compensation to states and the Facebook controversy.
Meanwhile, hectic preparations are on for the upcoming session which will be the first of its kind in Parliament's history due to unprecedented measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While last-minute preparations are on including seating arrangements, security agencies are finalising plans for allowing entry to MPs, their support staff and the media. The chambers of both houses and the various galleries will be used to seat the MPs. The MPs, their support staff, Parliament and security staff, and the media will have to undergo COVID-19 tests prior to the session which will end on October 1 without a break.
Except for the first day, the Rajya Sabha will sit in the morning from 9 AM to 1 PM, the Lok Sabha will sit in the evening from 3 PM to 7 PM, officials said. The Monsoon session is likely to be adjourned on the first day due to the death of former President Pranab Mukherjee, who has been the leader of both the Houses.
Besides, sitting Rajya Sabha members Amar Singh and M P Veerendra Kumar, and Lok Sabha member H Vasanthakumar have died during the inter-session period. The secretariats of both the houses have already issued nine-page guidelines emphasising on safety measures during the upcoming session and urging members to wear masks, maintain a physical distance of six feet and keep hands clean.