Rahul takes sabbatical as budget session begins

NEW DELHI: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi administered a mild shock to his party that is already in a free fall by deciding to take a few weeks’ leave “to reflect upon recent events and the future course of the party”.

Coming as it did on the opening day of the budget session of Parliament, Mr. Gandhi’s announcement was seen by his critics as yet another example of his reluctance to lead from the front. “It is the NDA Government’s first budget session and h is holidaying. There will be questions about his interest in politics and the country’s affairs”, said Union Minister and BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy.

Congress leaders, however, clarified that Mr. Gandhi was going on 3-4 weeks’ leave and will return after that. Some even went to the extent of justified his announcement by saying that a sabbatical was good to refresh the mind as well as the body.

The Congress vice-president’s decision will only strengthen the voice of his critics within and outside the party for his tendency to take long holidays abroad at a time when his presence was needed. Mr. Gandhi had done a disappearing act after the Congress party’s historic debacle in the 2014 general elections when it managed to win just 44 Lok Sabha seats and the string of humiliating defeats in elections to State Assemblies.  Party insiders attribute his action to differences with the old guard in the Congress over a range of issues.

RaGa missing when several contentious issues are lined up  

Though his contribution to Parliament during his previous two tenures has been minimal, Mr. Gandhi will be missing from action when the Opposition is sharpening knives to attack the Narendra Modi Government over the Land Acquisition Act and when social activist Anna Hazare is staging a dharna in Delhi to oppose the legislation on the ground that it is a draconian law that will displace lakhs of poor.

The NDA Government had resorted to the ordinance route after the Opposition repeatedly stalled proceedings in the winter session of the Rajya Sabha over the hate speeches delivered by BJP leaders, including an MP and a Minister. Mr. Modi has since made amends by condemning such speeches but the Opposition is determined to stonewall the Land Acquisition legislation which makes easier for Government to take away land from its owners for construction of projects.

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress) made his party’s intentions clear when he said, “we won’t be supporting an anti-people ordinance. There is no need to amend a law which the BJP itself supported (when the UPA was at the helm)”, he said.

This was in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal earlier to all members to ensure smooth functioning of the House as this was their collective responsibility. There as many as six ordinances which need to be converted into Acts in the current session as otherwise they will lapse.

Government will protect farmers’ interests      

Meanwhile, President Pranab Mukherjee, while delivering the traditional address to both Houses of Parliament, said the Government attached paramount importance to safeguarding the interests of farmers. The Land Acquisition Act, he explained, was a refinement of the earlier law to minimize procedural difficulties.

Mr. Mukherjee, who reached the Parliament House from the Rashrapathi Bhavan in a traditional horse-drawn buggy, was received by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Prime Minister Modi and others. They escorted him to the Central Hall where he delivered an hour-long address. A summary of his speech was read out by the Vice-President.

The President said that all families, especially the poorest of the poor, would have a dwelling unit by 2022. He noted that the Government had liberalized FDI and increased incentives for housing loans to facilitate investment in housing. He also reiterated the Government’s commitment to take all possible measures to stop generation of black money. His Government would provide a toilet in every school by August 15 this year, he added.

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