The Congress and other opposition parties on Sunday demanded that Lok Sabha MP Farooq Abdullah, who is under detention in Srinagar since the government’s August 5 move to revoke Jammu & Kashmir’s special status, be allowed to attend Parliament’s winter session, setting up a possible face-off in the House over curbs in the Valley.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at an all-party meeting, held to discuss the road map for the Parliament session scheduled from November 18 to December 13, that the governed was ready to discuss all issues “within the framework of rules and procedures of the Houses”.
The upcoming session is likely to see 27 legislations being taken up, including the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, which provides for Indian citizenship to be granted to non-Muslims of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Opposition parties have said they will seek answers from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government over a slowing economy, growing unemployment and farm distress when the House convenes.
A day after Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla held an all-party meet and pitched for a smooth functioning of the winter session, parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi convened a similar meeting attended by 27 political parties. During the discussions, the Prime Minister said the most important job of Parliament was to debate issues, Joshi said.
Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said opposition parties raised the 82-year-old NC leader’s detention during the meet. “A number of members have raised the issue on the detention of Farooq Abdullah. He should be allowed to attend the discussion in the House. We are hopeful that given the concern of the number of parties, the government will take appropriate measures…,” he said.
Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha leader Ghulam Nabi Azad also called for Abdullah’s release. “Farooq Abdullah sahab, who is under detention for over three months, should be allowed to attend the winter session of Parliament,” Azad said. National Conference MP Hasnain Masoodi said the government was under constitutional obligation to ensure Abdullah’s participation in the Parliament session. A leader, who asked not to be named, said the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) also asked for Abdullah’s release.
Several political leaders including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti were detained in J&K ahead of the government’s move to effectively scrap Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special powers to the erstwhile state. The Centre also moved to split the state into two Union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Farooq Abdullah has been detained under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. The law empowers the government to detain people for two years if they are, in its opinion, acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State.
A senior Congress leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “First of all, there is no case against Farooq Abdullah. The government itself has said that he is not under house arrest. And most importantly, it is the privilege of an MP to attend Parliament. The government is undermining his rights as an MP to come and raise issues in the House.” On Sunday, the Congress also demanded that former finance minister and Rajya Sabha member P Chidambaram, who is currently in jail in connection with the INX Media case, be released to attend the session.
“Past precedents are such that MPs have been allowed to attend Parliament sessions even if their cases were being heard. So, P Chidambaram should also be allowed to attend the winter session,” Azad told reporters.
In 2008, some jailed members of Parliament were allowed by courts to take part in a trust vote in the Lok Sabha when the Manmohan Singh-led government was in power.
Home minister Amit Shah was also present at Sunday’s all-party meet. Two leaders who were part of the discussions said on condition of anonymity that while Shah did not comment on Abdullah’s detention, he quipped that he, too, wanted Chidambaram in the House, but the government couldn’t do anything if the Congress leader was not able to secure bail.
After the meeting, the parliamentary affairs minister quoted PM Modi as saying that the government will work together with all parties in a “constructive manner to address pending legislations and frame policy solutions for specific issues related to environment and pollution”.
On Saturday, the Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) Lok Sabha floor leader, Pinaki Misra, demanded a day-long discussion on the deteriorating air quality in the National Capital Region. His proposal was supported by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and other leaders.
The PM also said that the government will find solutions to help the economy, the agricultural sector and farmers, and the rights of women, youth and the underprivileged sections of the society. He said that the winter session should be as productive as the previous one, according to Joshi.
Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu held a separate all-party meeting on Saturday and referred to the “highly productive” last session, urging the leaders to ensure that “positive momentum is sustained during this session”.
The budget session of Parliament, the first for the second term of the Modi government, had ended on a high note with the effective scrapping of Article 370, enactment of a law to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, and approval of the landmark triple talaq bill. It was the most productive inaugural session of a new Lok Sabha since Independence, data showed. Thirty bills, including the financial legislations that are part of the budget, were cleared by both Houses, the highest in any session in the past decade. The Lower House sat for more than 280 hours, often till evening, and cleared 36 bills, setting a new benchmark.
(With inputs from agencies)