Strong statements and counter arguments are emanating ahead of the second half of the budget session of Parliament. The Congress has also decided to use the floor of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, rather than disrupt them, in its attempt to pin down Narendra Modi and his ministers.
This strategy was chosen despite emotive issues being in focus like the targeting of student groups by BJP's student wing Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in different universities leading to suicide of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University and sedition charges against students of JNU. In fact, the major disruptions came from AIADMK MPs in both houses demanding action against Karthi Chidambaram, son of former finance minister, as raids by central agencies reportedly unearthing details about his wealth disproportionate to his source of income.
The other disruption was in Rajya Sabha where the Bahujan Samaj arty supremo Mayavati and her MPs locked horns with HRD minister Smriti Irani. Apart from such aberrations, the session witnessed some impressive speeches, especially when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi lashed out at the prime minister, who launched a vehement counter attack.
Irani was at her cinematic best as she took on Rahul and her major critics. Union ministers Arun jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Mallikarjun Kharge, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, BJP leaders Anurag Thakur and Pralhad Joshi were the star orators.
The subjects discussed were lofty like freedom of speech, extent and limits of patriotism, colonial era laws like sedition, role and attitude of police and sensitivity towards issues of students.
The debate saw repeated references to the Constitution, the debates in the Constituent Assembly and in Parliament. Senior members who have been around for decades were remembering the heights to which debate had gone up during the time of earlier prime ministers.
The Modi-Rahul confrontation made them recall the verbal duels between Atal Behari Vajpayee and several prime ministers including Indira Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and Rajiv Gandhi. Another former prime minister who excelled in polemics even when he was the only MP of his party was Chandrashekar.
Rahul's 'fair and lovely' comment against Modi drew parallels with the 'invisible PM' remark made by former opposition leader L K Advani, while he was referring to former PM Manmohan Singh. Yechury drew comparisons with Marxist stalwarts Somnath Chatterjee, A K Gopalan and Jyotirmoy Basu.
While Irani was impressive, several leaders felt she was no match to Sushma Swaraj, who was described as a more impressive senator. With the budget debate coming up, Parliament has an opportunity to improve its own image as a debating chamber.