‘Kerala lobby’ stamp on Congress Lok Sabha strategy

On Wednesday, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha leadership of the Congress received a missive from Rahul Gandhi: the party should continue to protest if the government did not accept the Opposition’s demand for a separate debate on farmers’ issues.
Rahul Gandhi

Two party leaders said many party MPs from other states too, have sided with the dominant views of party which also got backing of former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi in a meeting of Opposition leaders on Thursday.

For long, the Kerala lobby was synonymous with hardliners in the CPI(M). Over the past three days, the Congress has witnessed the emergence of its own Kerala lobby.

These are the hardliners who have played, and continue to play, a key role in deciding the party’s floor strategy in the budget session of Lok Sabha. Two party leaders said many party MPs from other states too, have sided with the dominant views of party which also got backing of former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi in a meeting of Opposition leaders on Thursday. Fifteen out of 51 seats of the Congress in the Lok Sabha are from Kerala.

At the core of this disruption is the Opposition’s demand for a separate debate in the Lok Sabha on the farmers’ issue; in the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition has agreed to extend the debate on the President’s speech by five hours and incorporating the debate on the farm stir into it.

According to at least five Congress MPs, even as MPs such as Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor were in favour of the debate, many Kerala MPs, especially those elected for the first time, along with their Punjab and Tamil Nadu counterparts, preferred to continue protests for a separate debate on the farm stir.

On Wednesday, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha leadership of the Congress received a missive from Rahul Gandhi: the party should continue to protest if the government did not accept the Opposition’s demand for a separate debate on farmers’ issues.

But minutes later, the RS leadership of the Congress, along with other Opposition parties, negotiated with the government’s floor managers to extend the time for debate on the President’s speech by five hours.

Congress leaders in the LS, however, took a different tactical line and continued to disrupt the Lower House asking for a separate debate on farm issues. Now, party leaders of the two Houses are blaming each other, widening the fissures within the party.

Gandhi has signalled his approval for the party’s stand in the LS, asserting that a separate discussion is “absolutely essential”. “We could have found a solution to the impasse and a debate would have also helped us to put forward our views. But many in the party believed that we must continue the protests,” said a senior Congress MP, asking not to be named.

Another Congress MP said: “Some of our colleagues argued that since the elections are due in Kerala and Tamil Nadu in April-May, such protests would help the party.” Some RS leaders of the Congress, however, maintained that their stand was “correct” and that their Lok Sabha counterparts were too rigid. “Parliament is for debate not fighting. We have made the same points in our debate. Rajya Sabha leaders did the right thing. We found a solution. Neither before nor after the president’s speech but during the debate,” said a senior Congress leader in RS who asked not to be named.

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