New Delhi: The Congress decided on Saturday that it would seek discussions on the EWS reservation, state of the economy and the situation at the border during Parliament’s winter session, which many of its leaders including Rahul Gandhi are unlikely to attend due to the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge is also likely to remain as leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha, party insiders said.
The party during its parliamentary strategy group’s meeting at Sonia Gandhi’s residence also decided to raise the issue of “weakening” of constitutional institutions in the country.
Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party.
The party also said the government should come out with the caste census report as several parties have demanded it.
During the session, which begins on December 7, the party is seeking to corner the government on the border issue with China, economic situation in the country, “weakening” of constitutional institutions and reservation for the economically weaker sections (EWS).
Three issues have emerged from the Congress’ side for discussions during this short session of Parliament of 17 days, All India Congress Committee general secretary Jairam Ramesh told reporters after the meeting.
“The three issues are the border situation, economic situation and weakening of constitutional institutions whose rights and independence are being snatched away,” Ramesh said.
“There is tension between India and China for the last 22 months and there has been no discussion in Parliament on the issue. The Congress would want that the issue be discussed in Parliament,” he said.
In a series of tweets later, he said, “60 years ago, Parliament was in session while Phase-2 of the Chinese invasion was taking place. Debates were happening & the PM was listening. However for the past 2.5 years Parliament has been denied any opportunity for a discussion even on the border situation.”
“…Not surprising perhaps because the PM is on record on June 19th, 2020 as saying that no Chinese incursion has taken place,” he said.
Ramesh said the Congress chief will talk to opposition leaders in the next two-three days and would like to have a joint strategy to ensure that these issues are raised and discussed.
Asked whether the issue of Kharge’s replacement as leader of opposition was discussed, Ramesh said there was no discussion on it.
“Sonia ji is chairperson of our parliamentary party and Kharge ji is president of our party. These issue cannot be discussed in a committee. Whatever action our parliamentary party chief will discuss,” he said.
“Kharge ji will talk to all parties not just as the Congress president but also as leader of the opposition,” he asserted.
Ramesh also hit out at the government accusing it of not allowing a discussion on issues that the opposition wanted, and said, “Calling for a discussion is our right. We know this is a sensitive issue.”
“There is no monopoly of the government over patriotism. We want a discussion on this to show a united ‘sankalp’ (consensus). We understand what is sensitive,” he said on the discussion on the border situation.
The Congress leader said if the government is ready for a discussion, the party would extend constructive support to it. “But our experience in the past has been that there is no discussion and the government wants their issues to be discussed only. But, this is not possible.”
“The Opposition must have its say and the government will have its way,” he said, citing an old saying.
Ramesh also claimed that there should be coordination between both the sides.
“Why is the BJP silent on caste census even when all parties are asking for it,” he also said.
On the EWS reservation, he said, the Congress is in favour of it but wants that the government should have a rethink on the issue, especially after two judges of the Supreme Court have raised several questions in the verdict.
In 2019, the Congress supported the constitutional amendment bill for EWS quota, but had raised several issues and two judges of the Supreme Court have raised serious questions and similar questions were also raised by party MPs when the bill was passed, he said.
“The Congress party is committed to EWS reservation for all communities. This is in our manifesto for 2009 and 2014 elections. So we are not against it. But, because of the questions raised after the Supreme Court verdict, we want a discussion on this issue,” he said.
Besides Ramesh, Congress president and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and senior leaders P Chidambaram, K C Venugopal, Manish Tewari, Javed Ansari, K Suresh and Manickam Tagore were among those who attended the meeting.
The Congress will also raise the issue of high inflation and price rise, falling value of the rupee, falling exports and high Goods and Services Tax rates.
He alleged there is “interference” in the functioning of independent and constitutional institutions.
“These are being made a part of the prime minister’s office and this is not acceptable. We want a discussion…,” he said.
Ramesh said when three farm laws were withdrawn, there was talk of giving legal sanctity to minimum support price for crops.
Out of the 17 bills that the government has listed for consideration in the session, the Congress said it is opposed to three bills — the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, Multi-State Cooperative Societies (Amendment) Bill, 2022, and the forest conservation amendment bill, 2022.
“We want these bills to be sent to standing committees. There is a need for more discussion on these bills and the Congress cannot support them in their current form,” he said.