Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi are meeting floor leaders of opposition parties – via videoconference – to ensure the smooth functioning of the the Budget Session, which began yesterday amid protests over the agriculture laws.
Junior ministers Arjun Ram Meghwal and V Muralitharan are also part of the meeting.
The Budget Session of parliament began Friday with strict rules in view of the Covid pandemic; in September the Monsoon Session ended eight days early after MPs and ministers tested positive.
The session, which will run till the first week of April, is set to be a stormy one, with the opposition determined to corner the centre over the farm laws.
That determination was in evidence on the first day, when around 20 opposition parties, led by the Congress, boycotted President Ram Nath Kovind’s speech to a joint sitting of parliament.
Today’s meeting with opposition parties is being seen as an effort to minimise ruckus in the parliament, following unprecedented chaos at the last session – when the farm laws were passed.
At that time a furious opposition signaled its anger by tearing copies of the farm laws inside the parliament and united to allege laws were broken as the centre used its majority to pass the laws.
Yesterday was the second consecutive time the opposition boycotted the President’s address – a traditional one in which he outlines the government’s agenda for the coming year.
Last year, the opposition (excepting Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party) boycotted the speech to support those opposing the citizenship law. This time the BSP joined the boycott, as did the BJP’s former ally Shiromani Akali Dal, which quit the ruling NDA in protest over the farm laws.
The BJP lost little time in launching its criticism, with Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad calling the boycott “really unfortunate” and Mr Joshi urging them to respect the President’s office.
Not all opposition MPs protested by boycotting the speech; the Congress’ Ravneet Singh Bittu and the RLP’s Hanuman Beniwal, present in the House to raise slogans like ”Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”.
Mr Bittu later said he broke ranks to express his solidarity with the farmers.
Lakhs of farmers across India have spent the last several weeks demanding the centre repeal laws they say will leave them at the mercy of large corporate firms.
Tens of thousands have been camped out around Delhi’s borders since late November.
The tense situation exploded on Republic Day when groups of farmers and others clashed with police during a tractor rally that turned violent. Police had to resort to firing tear gas and lathi charges to control the situation. One farmer died and hundreds of cops were injured.
Ahead of this session of parliament the centre had stressed it was ready to discuss all issues, including those related to farm sector laws that have triggered protests and violence across India.
Implementation of the farm laws have been stayed by the Supreme Court, which has set up a panel to resolve differences between the two sides.