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Shah makes well-rehearsed maiden speech in Rajya Sabha

Wednesday, February 07, 2018
By Arati Jerath

BJP president Amit Shah finally got to make his maiden speech in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. He was all set with a well researched speech on GST during the winter session but because of disruptions over the triple talaq bill, he was denied the opportunity to speak.

To make up for that loss, Shah was asked to initiate the debate on the motion of thanks to the President for his budget session address. The preparation that went into Shah’s speech was no less than the homework done for the address that President Kovind had delivered on the opening day of Parliament.

Apparently, every ministry was asked to send inputs on the Modi government’s achievements of the past four years. Ministers were scrambling around to prepare their presentations for Shah to incorporate in his speech. A similar exercise is carried out for the President’s address. No wonder Shah’s speech sounded like a repetition of Kovind’s, except for the parts in which he took pot shots at the Congress.

Shah spoke for one hour and twenty minutes. Opposition members asked Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu when the BJP president would finish.
Naidu said it was up to Shah to decide how long he wanted to speak. Actually, it’s a parliamentary tradition that an MP is allowed as much time as he or she wants for a maiden speech.

The highlight of Shah’s oration was an acknowledgement of the possibility that the BJP may not occupy the treasury benches next time. This came when he requested the opposition to rise above party politics and think of the nation. Today, we are sitting on this side. Tomorrow, it may be you, he told opposition parties. Pat came the response. Yes, yes, next time it will be us, opposition leaders shouted.

Manmohan Singh is star speaker
The star speaker at Sonia Gandhi’s joint opposition meeting last week turned out to be former prime minister Manmohan Singh. He addressed the meeting on the Modi government’s budget. He called it an ``indisciplined’’ budget and critiqued it on several points.

Opposition leaders at the meeting listened attentively and even took notes like students at a lecture by a professor of economics. At one point, some of the leaders interrupted Singh and asked him to repeat the point he had made because they had not been able to keep pace in taking notes.

Ironic moments at Sonia’s meeting
There were some ironic moments at Sonia’s meeting of the joint opposition. For instance, Trinamool’s representative Derek O’Brien began his speech by congratulating the Congress for its “hat trick’’ in Rajasthan where the party won three out of three by polls.

Before he could proceed, Sonia intervened to request Derek to convey her party’s congratulations for his boss, Mamata Banerjee, for her victory in Bengal. Mamata’s Trinamool Congress won both the by polls in the state. One was a Lok Sabha seat while the other was an assembly seat.

What Sonia ignored is that the Congress party lost its deposit in the Uluberia Lok Sabha seat while the BJP came second, albeit a distant second to the TMC. The irony of congratulating a rival for a victory that crushed the Congress was not lost on those present. Many of them had to hide their smiles at Sonia’s words.

Interestingly, Rahul Gandhi touched on this paradox when he spoke. He urged all parties to fight unitedly at the national level to defeat the BJP although they may be rivals in their states. He said there was nothing wrong in this because ousting the BJP was of paramount.

Although Rahul has attended joint opposition meetings in the past, he has rarely spoken. Sonia has addressed the meetings as Congress president and UPA chairperson. Now that Rahul is Congress president, he has the locus standi to speak.

He was the last to address the meeting. According to those present, he spoke well and confidently.

New dish called dhokli
The joint opposition meeting was held at Parliament house annexe where a favourite snack is dhokla. According to informed circles, the Congress directed the canteen to omit dhokla from the tea menu.

To make the snack a little different, Parliament canteen cooks served a fried something which looked and tasted suspiciously like a cross between dhokla and idli. One opposition leader jokingly dubbed it dhokli.

CPM MPs not happy with salary hike
While most MPs are happy about the salary hike announced in the budget, it seems CPM MPs are not. The reason is that they have to hand over their entire salary to the party. They are allowed to keep only the allowances on which they are supposed to live.

Till recently, Left MPs managed because the allowances were higher than their basic salary. But now, the new budget has cut down the allowances while increasing the basic salary. Left MPs are feeling short changed.

Their party, on the other hand, is elated because this means more fund for its coffers. Consequently, the CPI(M) for the first time, has decided to support the pay hike for MPs proposed in the budget. This is a reversal of its traditional stand of opposing salary increases for elected representatives.

Interestingly, the Trinamool congress has moved into the space vacated by the CPI(M). Mamata Banerjee has announced that her party will oppose the salary hike, reaffirming that her politics is more Left than the Left’s.

What’s common between the two parties is that their respective high commands have decided to ignore prevailing sentiments among their MPs with regard to the salary hike. If Left MPs are unhappy with the increase because they don’t benefit, TMC MPs are quite pleased about the hike. Unfortunately, MPs of both parties have to pretend otherwise.

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