The Congress is all geared up to corner the government during the winter session of Parliament on the issue of price rise, party sources said, adding that its main agenda will be to push the Centre to curtail prices of petrol and diesel or face protests. The Congress will also bring in the FDI and GST issues, and is likely to seek a vote when the FEMA notifications stipulating the government’s revised FDI policies in defence and media sectors are tabled in Parliament.
“Price rise will be our main plank during the winter session. The prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed. Pulses are being sold at Rs 200, which is unbelievable. If the government does not relent, we will also consider launching nationwide protests,” a senior Congress MP from Kerala told this correspondent. Hike in railway fares and the Swachh Bharat cess too would be opposed in the house, he said. The winter session commences on Thursday.
The MP quoted here said that there will be a meeting of Congress MPs on Monday where the party leadership will discuss strategy for the winter session. He added that the party may disrupt the proceedings of the House over price rise as it thinks this is the best time to corner the government, given the Bharatiya Janata Party’s loss in the Bihar elections.
When pointed out that continued Parliament logjam had earned widespread criticism for the Congress during the monsoon session, the MP said, “The functioning of the House has to be peaceful and cooperative, but that totally depends on the attitude of the government. If the government does not step in to control prices, we will launch protests. There cannot be a double standard that when we are in power, they will not allow the House to function, but when the BJP is in power we will have to cooperate. We will pursue the issue of price rise vigorously,” he told this newspaper.
The Congress has already been protesting against price rise in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Chandigarh and plans to turn it into a large scale campaign nationwide. The party has asked the government to reduce diesel prices immediately in proportion to the price of international crude oil.
“International crude oil prices have come down by nearly 60% since the National Democratic Alliance government came to power last year. If one considered the prices according to Dollar-Rupee parity, the price of diesel should be Rs 34.44/litre and the price of petrol should be Rs 43.37/litre,” Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee president Ajay Maken said in a press conference last week.
Sources said the Congress will also focus on FDI and will try to force a vote on it when the FEMA notifications stipulating the Centre’s revised FDI policies on defence and media sector are tabled in Parliament. “The Congress is in touch with some other opposition parties including both the Trinamool Congress and the Left parties,” a Congress leader said requesting anonymity.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma has already said that the Congress is in support of FDI but it does not want the checks removed in a sensitive sector like defence. “The UPA government had increased FDI in defence to 49% but had kept the condition on scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) and approval of the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS). This government has dispensed with any FIPB scrutiny or CCS approval for FDI up to 49% and put it under automatic route,” Sharma had told the media last week.
On the Goods and Services Tax Bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu has already spoken to Congress’ Lok Sabha leader Mallikarjun Kharge and former minister Veerappa Moily, and has pleaded for the party’s support for its smooth passage. But the Centre is likely to face opposition to the bill in its present form, the Congress MP quoted earlier said.
“As far as the GST bill is concerned, our stand is that the government should take on board the state governments. Many state governments have reservations against the bill, such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal. We are not opposed to it but we will bat for a larger consensus,” he said. The Congress has asked the government to cap the GST rate at 18%, to do away with the additional 1% tax over and above the GST, and to set up a grievance redressal council for all states.
Quite surprisingly, the government may yet again be visited by the spectre of the land acquisition bill. “We have taken certain stances, certain clauses... on that the government should have a clarity,” the Congress MP told this newspaper, adding the issue will be raised in Parliament.