Numbers Game Starts As Farm Bills Head To Rajya Sabha Amid Row
The centre and the opposition are engaged in a row over three farm bills
Despite the protests over three farm sector bills by the opposition and revolt by the BJP's oldest ally Shiromani Akali Dal, the ruling BJP is confident that numbers are stacked in its favour in Rajya Sabha where these draft laws are expected to be tabled soon.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's defence of the three bills and blistering criticism of the opposition for protesting against them on Thursday made it clear that he remains unfazed and that his government will press on to get parliament's approval for measures aimed at opening private avenues for farmers to sell their produce.
His assertion came amid Congress and several other parties besides the SAD coming out strongly against these bills, calling them "anti-farmers".
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against these proposed laws which, their leaders allege, will end up dismantling the existing government-backed support system they have.
While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is yet to have a clear majority of its own in the 245-member Rajya Sabha, many regional parties have backed it for the last several sessions to ensure passage of various legislations proposed by the government.
BJP leaders expressed confidence that they will get the support of over 130 members, including nine of the AIADMK, and seven of the TRS and six of the YSR Congress - all three of whom are not part of the ruling alliance, if a division of votes is sought on these bills.
The BJP has the highest tally with 86 seats, followed by 40 of the Congress.
The three members of the SAD are sure to vote against the bills, but Shiv Sena, a former BJP ally and now in opposition, has expressed it support for these bills. The Maharashtra party has three members in Rajya Sabha.
Several other regional parties, including three-member Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party with eight seats, and BSP with four, have joined the opposition's ranks in protest against these bills, but it may not prove enough to hinder their passage.
A number count of parties that have come out against these draft legislations suggests that there are as of now nearly 100 MPs opposing them. There is no clarity about the stand of some small parties which have around a dozen members put together.
Since the Modi government assumed office for its second time in 2019, its rivals have not been able to scuttle any of its major bills due to a rise in the ranks of treasury benches and a corresponding fall in the opposition ranks.
The Farmers'' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill were passed by Lok Sabha on Thursday, while the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill was passed on Tuesday. These bills seek to replace ordinances already promulgated by the government.
Speaking at a virtual launch of several rail projects in Bihar, PM Modi chose to speak at length on these bills, which have sparked protests by farmers in states like Punjab and Haryana, and sought to assuage concerns of the farming community by assuring them the government procurement of their produce will continue and so will the minimum support price (MSP).
He said these reforms have brought "freedom" to farmers and given them a "protection shield", as he accused the opposition of standing with middlemen and "misleading" people by "lying" to them.