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In Parliament, Congress shifts gears from Pegasus to farmers with eye on Punjab, UP polls

The Congress, which has been targeting Modi govt over the Pegasus 'hacking' controversy, has changed strategy given that farmers are now protesting at Jantar Mantar.

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New Delhi: With farmers being given permission to protest at Jantar Mantar against the Narendra Modi government’s agriculture reforms, the Congress party Thursday changed strategy in the Lok Sabha by shifting focus from the Pegasus ‘hacking’ controversy to the farmers.

The issue, the party feels, will give it more visibility than the Pegasus row and put the BJP on the backfoot, especially in states such as Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where assembly polls are due next year, a Congress leader told ThePrint.

Santosh Kumar Choudhary, Congress MP from Punjab, said: “This bill is anti-farmers, and the government is not serious about resolving farmers’ concern. They are doing only lip service … we have stated we are with farmers protest. Government should come forward to resolve the issue.”

The monsoon session of Parliament, which began this Monday, has so far seen opposition parties hit out at the Modi government over the alleged targetting of politicians, journalists and activists, among others, using the Israeli spyware Pegasus. A global consortium of media agencies, including TheWire in India, has been since late Sunday releasing names of people who were purportedly targetted.

Hibi Eden, Congress’s Lok Sabha MP from Ernakulam, told ThePrint: “It is not that we have left Pegasus issue… all over the state, there are protests going on. But since farmers came to Jantar Mantar to protest against the anti-farmer bills, naturally it was decided to protest on farm bills today. There are a lot of issues on which government has to respond … every day we will raise issues one by one.”

He added: “If they are serious to debate, [they should] allocate time, which has yet not happened.”

While the Congress has been staging protests in the Lok Sabha for the past two days, opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha Tuesday got united to ensure discussion on the Covid-19 pandemic. They then lodged their protest on the farmers’ issues and Pegasus row.

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had appealed to the MPs to maintain decorum but the protests created a ruckus.

On Thursday, as the Lower House assembled for the day’s business, Congress MPs came to the well and protested against the three contentious bills that farmers have been demanding a repeal of since last October. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also took part in a protest that was held outside Parliament. Inside, several party MPs submitted adjournment motions over the Pegasus controversy too.

The Akali Dal has also been protesting on the farmers’ bills issue since Day One in Parliament, largely ignoring the Pegasus issue.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the media Thursday: “Government is ready for discussion with farmers, if they express their issue with law point wise… we can discuss it, but country has witnessed that these farm law are beneficial and are in favour of farmers.”

Also read: Pegasus list proves Rahul Gandhi’s undying importance

Ruckus in Parliament, BJP works on strategy

Speaker Birla had told protesting members: “I am ready to allow discussion… this House is not for protest and placards, but for discussion. If you want to protest, go outside and protest.” However, the warning to the opposition members went in vain as they continued with their protest.

Prime Minister Modi held a meeting with floor leaders Anurag Thakur, Piyush Goel and Kiren Rijiju, along with Union ministers Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh, Thursday morning to devise a strategy to counter the opposition’s charges.

A leader present at the meeting, told ThePrint: “We are anticipating this week will go in protest. [Though] We have given the option of discussion, we are expecting normalisation of business by next week. PM has given instruction to all MPs and chief ministers to counter opposition campaign on Pegasus episode.”

Despite the ruckus, Speaker Birla had allowed two questions during the Question Hour and Zero Hour when House proceedings resumed.

Bhartruhari Mahtab, who was in the chair in the Lok Sabha when the session resumed in the afternoon, had allowed the introduction of two government bills — Inland Vessels Bill, 2021, and Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021.

Congress MPs Adhir Ranjan Choudhary and Shashi Tharoor, who had given notice against the introduction of the Inland Vessels Bill, which will pave the way for a unified law for the entire country instead of separate state laws for registration of all water vessels.

Kollam MP N.K. Premachandran of the Revolutionist Socialist Party opposed the introduction of the Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021, since the House was not in order.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Modi govt lists 17 new bills in Monsoon session, Opposition to raise issue of Covid management


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