By Abdul Bari Masoud
New Delhi: The week-long ‘Janta Parliament’, concluded on Wednesday with opposition parties warned that any attempt to impose uniformity in the country will weaken the secular fabric of the country. Raising the issue of proportional representation, they also pledged unequivocal support to resolutions passed by Janta Parliament and suggested to evolve a Common Minimum Programme for forging a broader unity of opposition.
Congress representative, K. Raju said that the congress was in agreement with most of the proposals arising from the Janta Parliament. He said this platform of dialogue that began during the Jan Sarokar process of 2019, which was attended by the Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and leaders from other political parties, must be strengthened and the Janta Parliament was a big step in that direction.
He said that the resolutions cover a wide range of vital people’s issues and deserve extensive media attention. He felt that this will also help make sure that they are raised in the Parliament as well when the Monsoon Session is convened, adding that civil society must also meet individual MPs to advocate for these issues.
Intervening the debate, Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that it has been a very useful exercise since the Parliament has not been convened since the lockdown.
He lamented that the pillars of our democracy and republic are being replaced, be decried the intense attack on rights, such as the right to food and RTI, and civil liberties that is taking place to make them defunct.
In the wake of present government’s attempt to implement the RSS agenda, Yechury warned that any attempt to impose uniformity in the country will dilute the idea of India. He suggested that a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) like draft be prepared based on which unity should be forged between political parties and peoples movements. He made it clear that this cannot be a battle fought by one party or one movement. He also offered that the CPI (M) will cooperate fully with all such efforts.
Agreeing with Yechury, Congress leader Raju said that a CMP must be made in order to bring the opposition together. Remembering that the UPA had pushed for rights based legislations like the National Food Security Act, RTI and the MGNREGA, some specific suggestions that he said the Congress would be working towards in the future include a basic income to put money immediately in the hands of the poor, a legislation for the right to health and universal PDS without Aadhar linkage. He added that the Congress opposed recent developments on Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and ordinances in agriculture. He looked forward to the issues in the Janta Parliament being raised in the Parliament as well
Raja, National Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), said that Ambedkar had envisioned the Parliament as an expression of the sovereignty of the nation and that it should not be undermined. He added that the Parliament has been bypassed by the present government. He also raised the issue of electoral reforms and specifically touched upon the issues of proportional representation and electoral bonds. He assured the gathering that his party supported most of the resolutions of the Janta Parliament and the need of the times was for parties and social movements to work together inside and outside Parliament.
Kodikunnil Suresh, chief whip of the Congess in the Lok Sabha and a member of the Lok Sabha Speaker’s panel, said that the discussions of the Janta Parliament must be taken into consideration by all the central and state governments. He acknowledged that many things about the problems facing the nation currently were discussed in the Janta Parliament and that he learned a lot from the summary presented. He was concerned about the number of ordinances issued by the government.
Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janta Dal said that the Janta Parliament had shown how Parliamentary deliberations could be constructive and productive. He was worried about the Monsoon Session being truncated with very limited time. He was also anxious about the legislative business that the government might have in mind given the past track record of suddenly introducing new bills in the morning of the same day that they have to be considered by the Parliament. He was also apprehensive if Parliamentary fora would be available to MPs to bring issues to the attention of the public. He said that a strategy should be made to create a convergence between Parliament building and the people’s Parliament. He said a common agenda would also be useful for his party in the upcoming elections in Bihar.
Sanjay Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party said that the Modi government is looking to convert the on-going pandemic into an opportunity to disinvest in various national assets such as SAIL, COAL and the railways. He added that the centre is looking to escape questioning and is therefore not convening Parliament. He said that the NDA had neither given adequate relief to people during such extraordinary times nor had the BJP state governments handled the pandemic effectively, citing the example of Uttar Pradesh where he said two cabinet Ministers had passed away due to COVID-19. He announced that his would also raise these issues in the Parliament.
Shimla’s former deputy mayor, Tikender Singh Panwar of the CPI-M, added that in addition to all the issues raised, there should also be a focus on sustainability of cities and possible alternatives as solutions to current problems.
As closing remarks, activist, Medha Patkar urged MPs to take up these issues in the Parliament and said that civil society will rally around them in solidarity. She stressed the need to move from “virtual” to “actual” on issues such as education, food, and on deliberations like the EIA and the criminal law amendment which she strongly opposed. She said civil society would work on a common minimum programme but also search for a “Common Maximum Agenda”. She also expressed concern about developments around democracy and independent institutions like the judiciary while citing Prashant Bhushan’s on-going contempt case.
Aruna Roy, who had welcomed the political party leaders concluded the session with the reading of the preamble to the Indian Constitution in Hindi and English.
This session of the online Janta Parliament was adjourned after 43 hours of discussions with around 250 speakers, over a hundred resolutions, over a thousand voting participants and engaging with over one lakh people on social media. The specific plans for further advocacy around the issues in the upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament will be announced after the Jan Sarokar organising group meeting which is likely to be held at the end of this month.