Caught in political shadow-boxing, the big ticket reform measure will be a crucial test for the ruling NDA in a House where it is at a numerical disadvantage. Both BJP and Congress have issued three-line whips to its members. The Congress, which is apparently taking a tit-for-tat approach, has joined hands with eight other Opposition parties to demand that the bill be referred to a Select Committee. The government, which is counting on the fact that the Congress will not vote against a bill that it had itself brought during the UPA regime, is pulling out all stops to ensure its passage.
"There are still 48 hours to go before the bill is taken up," minister of state for parliamentary affairs Prakash Javadekar said on Friday evening when asked about the Opposition stand. Bsides Congress, the CPM, CPI, Trinamool Congress, BSP, SP, NCP and DMK -- adding up to 138 in the 245-strong House-- were signatories to the letter sent to Rajya Sabha chairman demanding that the bill be referred to a select committee. The AIADMK and BJD did not sign the resolution.
The Congress's ambivalence towards the insurance bill is getting curiouser. The party does not want to give up its imprimatur over the bill, which it had brought forward in 2012 and which was blocked by
the BJP which was in the opposition. Congress says that it supports the increase in FDI but cannot support the 60-page in toto bill unless it goes through the details. It is justifying its opposition to the bill by citing the amendments made by the Modi regime. Party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the main objection is to inclusion of FIIs (foreign institutional investors) and not FDI (foreign direct investment). Singhvi said that FII will be volatile and slippery and the party has serious reservations about it. But he is still not clear whether the Congress would not vote for it.
The BJP is arguing that it had made only 11 amendments while 86 were proposed by the Congress-led UPA. A BJP leader quipped that with roles reversed, the two parties-- Congress and BJP-- will be reading out each other's speeches in the House when the bill comes up.
With just 43 members in the Upper House, the BJP will need the support of other parties even it it banks on its allies, AIADMK and BJD. The government, which was upset that around 20 BJP members were absent despite a whip issued during the guillotine of demands for grants in Lok Sabha, has asked its members to make sure they are present when the insurance bill is taken up. Sources said what peeved the government further was that around seven of the members were absent despite being in the Capital.
The Congress is apprehensive that the BJP will try to wean away parties, as it did during the TRAI amendment.
The Congress did not want to be seen to be going with the BJP when smaller parties were fully opposing it. It does not want to give up its position as the main opposition party. There is also the desire to
make things difficult for the BJP. "They did not give an inch to us," said a party man speaking on condition of anonymity. But the party will not go the whole length to torpedo the bill.
It has been pointed out that when former finance minister P Chidambaram introduced the bill and it was referred to the parliamentary standing committee on finance headed by Yashwant Sinha which had objected to the very idea of 49 per cent FDI, the very thing that the BJP is now pushing.