With the Congress locked in negotiations with the government on many key legislation, including the Goods and Services Tax and private member Bills like the one on Andhra Pradesh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has set up a high-powered parliamentary group to examine the legislative business of the government and help the party decide its stand. The idea is to ensure that the party puts up a coherent position on Bills.
Former finance minister P Chidambaram, who returned to Parliament after two years, has been made a member of the committee. The other members are Congress’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, former union ministers Jairam Ramesh and K V Thomas and young MP Rajiv Satav. Thomas and Satav are members of the Lok Sabha. This is the first time Sonia has set up a formal mechanism to examine Bills.
Sources in the party said the move was as an attempt to “end adhocism” in the party’s response to key legislation. Significantly, Sonia’s letter said the group would “coordinate with party MPs in various parliamentary committees and ensure a coherent position is adopted by the party during relevant meetings.” The letter added: “ Based on the inputs of this group, party stand on legislative matters can be decided by Congress president, vice-president in consultation with leaders of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.” Thomas would be the informal convenor of the group. Sources said the decision to set up the group was decided at a meeting chaired by Sonia and attended by Rahul.
The stress on examining even private member Bills is interesting given the party had locked horns with the government, demanding voting on a private member Bill moved by its member in the Rajya Sabha, K V P Ramachandra Rao.
After stalling the government’s legislative agenda for the last two days, the Congress today relented and allowed discussion on The Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill, 2016, after it became clear that the government would not agree to a vote on the Andhra Bill, arguing it falls in the category of money bills. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had made it clear on Tuesday that the House cannot vote on a money Bill. Sources said that at a meeting of floor leaders convened by Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari to break the logjam, it was decided that the House would hold a discussion on providing a package to Andhra Pradesh.
Sources said while Congress had sought the discussion under Rule 167, which entails voting, the party would be satisfied if the debate ends in a House resolution which commits to honour the promises made by the UPA government while bifurcating the state. Sources in the Congress said the party was now resigned to the fate that the Bill would be declared a money Bill.