Kolkata: In the latest reconstitution of the parliamentary committees announced Tuesday, opposition parties Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) were removed from chairmanship of key panels, leaving the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies at the helm of six major panels — Home Affairs, Information Technology, Defence, Health and Family Welfare, External Affairs and Finance.
While the principal opposition party, Congress, retained the chairmanship of one panel — Science and Technology, Environment and Forests — the second largest opposition party, TMC, got none.
Trinamool lost the key food and consumer affairs panel, which will now be headed by BJP MP Locket Chatterjee.
Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi was replaced by BJP MP Brij Lal as the new Home Affairs panel chairman. MP Prataprao Jadhav, of the Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena camp, is the new chairman of the IT panel, replacing Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
The reconstitution has drawn sharp criticism from the opposition.
Speaking to ThePrint, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress leader in Lok Sabha, said the government was uncomfortable with the issues being raised in the standing committees and hence, this reconstitution to eliminate opposition from key posts was done to muzzle their voices.
“While there is no rule that opposition leaders have to be at the helm of the panels, it’s a well-settled convention in our parliamentary norm. Since the time allotted during the sessions are inadequate, standing committees are mini parliaments comprising opposition members to scrutinise all policies. Now the opposition has been deliberately expunged and decimated. I have written to the Parliamentary Affairs Minister [V. Muraleedharan] regarding this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge, frontrunner for the party’s presidential polls, has not been picked for any of the 22 panels.
The Health and Family Welfare panel, which was earlier headed by Samajwadi Party’s Ramgopal Yadav, will now be headed by BJP’s Bhubaneswar Kalita.
Notably, the Congress has 31 MPs in the 245-member Rajya Sabha and 53 in the 543- member Lok Sabha making it the principal opposition party and the TMC, with its 13 MPs in Upper House and 23 in the Lower House, is the second largest opposition party.
Sources from the Congress told ThePrint that they have been offered the Chemicals and Fertilisers panel but they haven’t yet picked an MP to hold the chairmanship’s post after losing the two key panels of IT and Home Affairs.
“The spine of the most important committees has been broken,” said Chowdhury.
TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, told ThePrint, “This is absolutely unprecedented and it shows the high-handedness of the authorities who have willfully deprived the TMC from heading any standing committees. This is also politically motivated.”
Sources in the TMC said, a decision to mark any protest against this move will be taken by the party and cannot be disclosed at this point in time.
Immediately after the announcement, Derek O’Brien, TMC parliamentary leader in Rajya Sabha, took to Twitter to express his dismay. “Third largest party AITC and second largest opposition party does not get even one chairmanship. Also, the largest opposition party loses two crucial chairmanships. This is the stark reality of New India.”
Later, speaking to ThePrint, he said, “Parliament is being undermined by Messrs [Narendra] Modi and [Amit] Shah in different ways. This is just one example. There are countless more.”
Another TMC MP Sushmita Dev said this sets a bad precedent. “Standing committees are watchdogs of government policies and act as voices of various stakeholders. Opposition parties are meant to play an active role, not just as members but as chairpersons,” she wrote on Twitter.
BJP MP Locket Chatterjee, now in charge of the Food and Consumer panel, however said the TMC needs to set its own house in order before criticising the reconstitution.
“In the Bengal Vidhan Sabha (State Assembly), the TMC has muzzled the opposition. BJP was denied the Public Accounts Committees’ Chairmanship post. It doesn’t suit TMC to speak against the reshuffle. It needs to set its own house in order, especially after the school service recruitment scam. The panels were reconstituted following protocol and qualified MPs were given the chairman’s posts.”
(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)