The second half of the Budget session starts on Monday. What will be the Congress' strategy in this session?
The murder of democracy in Uttarakhand is an important issue for us after the murder of democracy in Arunachal Pradesh and the attempted murder taking place in Himachal Pradesh. We will definitely raise the issue of destabilisation of democratically elected state governments - it's a very important issue.
Second, we will take up the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC) issue. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has submitted its fifth report in the past six years: it's a damaging indictment of the GSPC, which was run on a hands-on basis by then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
Then, there are other issues, like the continuation of a minister in the government, Y S Chowdary, against whom there is a non-bailable warrant for non-payment of loans amounting to Rs 100 crore; the kid-glove treatment being meted out to Vijay Mallya; the Panama Papers expose... there is no shortage of issues. It's a 19-day session, where the number of working days will be 14.
Also, I have moved the Supreme Court challenging the decision to turn the Aadhaar Bill into a Money Bill. That petition will come up on April 25. In all, the prospects of Parliament running smoothly are remote.
Do you see this Budget session turning into another washout?
Much as I would like to see the drought situation and the farmer suicides issue being taken up in Parliament, there are extremely important political issues (stated before) that need to be taken up. It is the government which does not want Parliament to run and has done everything to devalue it.
The government and the finance minister have reiterated how crucial it is for the economy to get the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill passed in this session. Will the Congress finally come around to passing the GST?
We have consistently maintained that there are three issues in the GST Bill that need to be addressed and it is for the government to respond to that. The real issue is that the Congress' objections are merely an alibi; there is a strong section in the Bharatiya Janata Party that does not want the Bill. Piyush Goyal (power minister) had expressed ambivalence on GST when he was not in government. Gujarat Finance Minister Saurabh Patel is not convinced either. We have put across our views to the Select Committee, but the government refuses to listen. In the Real Estate Bill, it accepted our conditions and the Bill was passed.
On the GST, why doesn't the Union finance minister write to Sonia Gandhi (Congress president), communicating the government's stand, and then we shall see, instead of writing on Facebook or blogs? The ball is in the government's court. As of now, there is zero chance of the GST getting passed in this session. If this remains the attitude of the government - arrogant, deliberately provocative, it ramrods its way into Uttarakhand - do you expect the Congress to cooperate? Even the Atal Bihar Vajpayee government from 1998 to 2004 believed in a give-and-take relationship. The current prime minister delights in confrontation; his government is deliberately provocative. Why should we play ball?
As Congress spokesperson you have been highlighting the GSPC issue and the CAG reports.…
We will definitely be raising it in Parliament. This KG (the Krishna-Godavari basin controversy on which the CAG prepared a report) is more serious than 2G (the 2G spectrum scam). It is far more insidious. Around Rs 20,000 crore was taken from banks, bombastic claims were made by the then Gujarat chief minister 11 years ago. Nothing has happened since then. It's a classic example of how a state-owned enterprise was used for political purposes. We have demanded an inquiry by a Supreme Court judge. We also want a probe by the Joint Parliamentary Committee. Even way back in 1957, Nehru got the Mundhra scandal probed.
Among the legislation that need to be cleared is the Bankruptcy Code. What is the Congress' stand on it?
The Bill is with the Select Committee; we objected to that. We wanted it to be sent to the Standing Committee, but this government sent it to the Select Committee. Let us see what comes of that.
The pattern on display for quite some time now is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gets Bills cleared in the Lok Sabha with its numerical majority; then the Bills get stonewalled in the Rajya Sabha where the Congress has the numbers. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has been raising the issue of redundancy of a house of unelected members....
The problem arises due to the government's reluctance to send Bills to a Standing Committee, where they should rightly be discussed. Better Bills emerge after scrutiny by a Standing Committee, but this government has been undermining it. As for the redundancy argument, consider the top ministers in the BJP-led government: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu, Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. They are are all Rajya Sabha members. Redundancy is a bogus argument; the Rajya Sabha has a constitutionally defined role and it is fulfilling that.
Political observers say the Congress is increasingly been perceived as a negative obstructionist force....
Jaitley, as Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha [during the term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre], had gone on record stating that disruption was the legitimate right of the Opposition. Pranab Mukherjee had once told me that the Opposition's job was to oppose, expose and depose. This is what the BJP did to us for five years, now it's payback time. In any case, it is the government's job to achieve a consensus, and while Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj, Kamal Nath were all excellent parliamentary affairs ministers, Venkaiah Naidu has proved disastrous in that position. The government doesn't seem to have the desire to get Bills passed; more importantly, it lacks the ability to reach a consensus. Even I managed to get extremely contentious Bills, like the National Green Tribunal Bill and the Land Bill passed during the UPA regime.
Post the May 2014 defeat, the Congress was reduced to its lowest numerical strength (44 members in the Lok Sabha). Instead of regrouping, it seems to be on a downward spiral, losing one state after another. Its prospects do not appear bright in the ongoing elections in some states....
Wait for the election results; you might be pleasantly surprised. The epitaphs being written for the Congress in Assam and West Bengal will prove to be premature. We in the Congress are aware of the challenges: we are competing with the BJP, with regional parties, with new kids on the block, like the Aam Aadmi Party. There are multiple challenges. But people seem to be underestimating the Congress' resilience factor. We are like the Indian elephant: we take time to move.