Today in Politics: After much speculation, Parliament speci…

For the next five days, all attention shifts to Parliament where a five-day special session begins today. After weeks of no information about the agenda and a whole lot of speculation, the government last week announced an unexceptional agenda that included four Bills to be taken up for consideration and a discussion on “Parliamentary Journey of 75 years starting from Samvidhan Sabha – Achievements, Experiences, Memories and Learnings”. On Sunday, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi said eight Bills had been listed for consideration and passage.

Among the draft laws on the table is the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, introduced during the Monsoon Session in the Lok Sabha. It is among the more contentious legislation on the agenda. It seeks to downgrade the service conditions of the Election Commissioners by proposing to align their salary, allowance and service conditions with those of a Cabinet Secretary — currently, the commissioners are equivalent to a Supreme Court judge. The Bill also seeks to constitute a committee of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM, instead of the Chief Justice of India as per the current system, to select Commissioners and Chief Election Commissioner.

“However, the EC Bill, which was introduced in Rajya Sabha on August 10, was missing from the list circulated by the government at the all-party meeting convened by the government on Sunday. With the Opposition parties objecting to the Bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi is learnt to have said at the meeting that the government was yet to decide on bringing it,” report Manoj CG and Liz Mathew.

At Sunday’s meeting, Opposition leaders questioned the “secrecy” surrounding the agenda, pointing out that the tentative list of business circulated earlier had a line saying it was not an exhaustive list. They made a strong pitch to bring the Women’s Reservation Bill, and to keep aside one day for discussion of issues raised by the Opposition. “Only the government knows what its intention is. It may surprise everyone with some new agenda,” said Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

The agenda is a tentative list and more matters may be added at the government’s discretion as per parliamentary procedure. Speculation has been rife over potential new legislation the government may introduce, including a resolution to rename India as Bharat, after it was used in official G20 invitations. Then there was speculation about the government introducing the Women’s Reservation Bill, taking up the proposal for simultaneous elections, reinstating Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Take your pick.

Not just the Opposition, a section of the senior BJP leadership is also said to have been in the dark about the government’s actual intention, as Liz Mathew wrote in last week’s Road to 2024 column.

This is only the second special session of Parliament during the Modi government’s tenure. The last one was held in June 2017 at midnight to mark the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax in a largely ceremonial session that had no other legislative business. Previous special sessions have been called to commemorate national milestones but the Constitution does not contain the term “Special Session”. It also does not mention how they can be called (except in the case of an emergency if regular sessions haven’t been held) and how they are conducted. As such, the procedures for them are unclear.

Though the five-day sitting of Parliament will function as a regular session for legislation, there will be no Question Hour or Zero Hour and no consideration of Private Members’ Bills. Scrapping the Question Hour, in particular, has drawn some flak — it has only been dropped on a handful of occasions under extreme circumstances including during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the Emergency era, and the 1962 Indo-China war.

According to sources, the session will start in the old Parliament building before moving to the new building on Tuesday after a function in the Central Hall of Parliament. Read Harikishan Sharma on how Parliament has changed over the last 75 years — its journey told through 10 data points.

Meanwhile, in Patna, Bihar, former Janata Dal (United) leader and ex-Begusarai MP Monajir Hasan is set to join former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal today. Kushwaha, a former JD(U) leader himself, left the party following a run-in with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar earlier this year. Hasan left the JD(U) in May.

In poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will inaugurate a 108-foot statue of Acharya Shankar — an eighth-century philosopher and influential figure in Hinduism — in the temple town of Omkareshwar. The structure has been named the “Statue of Oneness”.

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The Supreme Court is set to hear Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s plea against a summons from the Enforcement Directorate in a money laundering case. The petition was deferred after the SC accepted a request to adjourn the case since senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who is to appear for Soren, was not available.

Watch out for: Road to 2024, our weekly tracker on the BJP and the Opposition where we decode how the battle for the Lok Sabha is shaping up.

Also, in the South Compass column, Arun Janardhanan writes about Tamil Nadu’s caste politics and the legacy of Immanuel Sekaran, a Dalit activist who was killed in 1957 by unidentified assailants at the age of 32. His 58th death anniversary was commemorated three days ago.

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