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Constitution Debate Sets The Tone For Stormy Session On Intolerance Next Week

The combined Opposition wants both the Houses to adopt a resolution on intolerance. It remains to be seen if the government agrees for a resolution

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The opening day of the Winter Session of Parliament on Thursday (26 November) set the tone for a stormy session on intolerance next week, when it concludes its two-day discussion on India’s Constitution as part of 125th anniversary celebration of Dr B R Ambedkar.

The session will run until 23 December, 2015 and will have 20 sittings. The legislative agenda includes 19 Bills currently pending in Parliament for consideration and passage. 14 new Bills are proposed to be introduced.

After a concerted effort at reaching out to the Opposition, the government is counting on Opposition support for passing the landmark GST Bill, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has said that he hopes to get the legislation passed.

It won’t be a cakewalk for the government, though.

While most of the non-Tamil Nadu parties are for the bill, and the Congress has sought to take credit “for being the original author of the bill”, the party top brass, comprising party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, listed three non-negotiable demands of the party on the bill.

They told the NDTV that they would not compromise on 1 per cent tax for manufacturers, the Constitutional cap of 18 per cent for GST rate, and an independent dispute resolution mechanism for GST.

On Thursday, meanwhile, the Lok Sabha witnessed a sparring match of sorts between the Treasury benches and the main Opposition.

Home Minister and deputy leader of the House, Rajnath Singh, who initiated the discussion, said that the words “secular” and “secularism” were being misinterpreted and misused in the country today. “(BR) Ambedkar did not use the word secular in the Preamble of the Constitution. That’s because India is panth-nirpeksh (valuing all regions equally) traditionally," he said.

There were loud protests from the Congress benches, and Leader of Opposition, Mallikarjun Kharge, said that Dr Ambedkar was in favour of adding the word to the Preamble when the Constitution was drafted, but could not do so because “the atmosphere was not right then”.

It was Congress president Sonia Gandhi, however, who took the government apart “for undermining Constitutional values”. She said that the values shrined in the Constitution “were being torn apart in recent times”. She was alluding to the incidents of communal violence and intolerance in various parts of the country.

It’s this intolerance that has brought various Opposition parties together and both the Houses are set to witness stormy scenes when a combined Opposition takes on the government, next week. For its part, the government has said that it was ready for a debate on intolerance, even as it wondered how the Congress could talk about the Constitution when it had undermined the institution by imposing the Emergency.

The combined Opposition wants both the Houses to adopt a resolution on intolerance. It remains to be seen if the government agrees for a resolution.