Oppn set to corner govt on economic slowdown during the winter session

New Delhi: The Maharashtra and Haryana assembly poll results have re-energised the Congress-led Opposition and armed it with the much-needed ammunition to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the upcoming winter session of Parliament.

In the October 21 elections, its first major electoral test since coming to power at the Centre in May with a bigger majority in the Lok Sabha, the BJP failed to reach the halfway mark in both the state assemblies, falling short of its own forecasts and the predictions of most exit polls.

The Congress is set to corner the government on the economic slowdown, particularly in rural areas, which is believed to have had an impact on the election outcome in some constituencies of Maharashtra and Haryana, a party strategist said on condition of anonymity,

The economy grew 6% in the quarter ended June, the slowest pace in over six years, and a recent Nielsen survey said the growth in rural spending was down to a seven-year low. The Congress has accused the government of mismanaging the economy, tracing the slowdown to the 2016 withdrawal of high-value banknotes and what it sees as the flawed implementation of the Goods and Services Tax in 2017.

The party is also determined to oppose any attempt by the government to push the contentious bill to amend the citizenship law that proposes to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.

“If we are sure about anything, it is about our opposition to the citizenship act. We are cautious that the BJP may try to take communal advantage from our opposition, but we can’t let changes in the basic structure of the Indian Constitution,” said the Congress strategist cited above.

The winter session starts on November 23 and ends on December 13.

To be sure, the Congress failed to stop the BJP from coming to power in Haryana, where the latter formed the government with support from Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) although the grand old party doubled its strength from the 2014 elections.

In Maharashtra, the BJP and its partner Shiv Sena are still engaged in efforts to reach a consensus on the formation of a coalition government, in which the Congress and its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), performed better than expected in what some party leaders see as a potential turnaround of its fortunes after its general election debacle.

Another Congress leader, a senior member of the Rajya Sabha, said it would have been difficult for the party to take on the BJP had latter won another commanding mandate in the two state assembly elections

“In the national election, the BJP routed us. But the assembly elections indicated the anger and frustration among the people, especially on economic issues. This results are important for us to make the strategy for the winter session of Parliament,” said this person, who also requested anonymity.

Opposition parties are likely to demand a long debate on the economic situation, the row over the National Register of Citizens that excluded 1.9 million people of Assam and the Kashmir situation, among other issues, to counter the BJP.

“Parliament of India is the best forum for lawmakers to debate on issues of national importance. I just hope that the government gives the Opposition a chance of raise all issues including the economic crisis and the Opposition too, must ensure that the House runs smoothly without disruptions,” former Parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah said.

BJP leader Nalin Kohli noted that the Opposition had in the past been instrumental in not allowing Parliament to function.

“Parliament, as a temple of democracy, is the appropriate forum to discuss any issue of importance subject to due procedures and rules being followed. Prime Minister Modi’s government has always welcomed discussions and debates in Parliament. However, ironically, while the Opposition expresses a desire and intent to raise issues in Parliament, in reality they have often prevented Parliament from its full functioning, as we witnessed in the earlier Lok Sabha,” Kohli said.

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