On the farm bill issue—their biggest protest in the second term of the Narendra Modi government—the Congress party has discovered an unusual inspiration: Arun Jaitley.
The late union minister has been mentioned twice by the Congress at two crucial junctures of their protests: when it asked its state governments to explore legislative options against the farm bills and after the Opposition’s demand for a division (voting) was rejected in the Rajya Sabha.
A day before the monsoon session ended on September 23, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad invoked Jaitley’s remarks on division to attack the government. Azad’s attack came two days after the Opposition’s fervid appeal for a division on the farm bills in the Rajya Sabha was not approved by Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh.
“I want to quote what Arun Jaitley had said in 2016. He said, ‘That the Government becomes illegitimate if the Speaker refuses the division of vote.’ He termed it as illegitimate,” said Azad.
He was referring to the government’s plea in the Supreme Court against a Uttarakhand High Court order. Azad reminded the House that there too, the core issue was denial of division in the floor despite the Opposition asking for it.
Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu, a close friend of Jaitley, was in the chair. He quickly reminded Azad that Jaitley had also spoken about tyranny of minority when Opposition parties regularly halted government business in the Upper House. “Arun Jaitleyji is no more. He has also said that it is the tyranny of minority,” said Naidu.
On Monday, when the Congress upped its ante against the farm bill and sought legal actions, they again referred to Jaitley.
They asked the states to take cue of what Jaitley had said in the context of the controversial land acquisition law that the NDA government tried to amend to make it more farmer-friendly as well as beneficial to the industries.
As the UPA-era law made it extremely difficult for industries to acquire land, Jaitley had pointed out that the Indian Constitution has a provision under which states can make their own laws on Concurrent List of Business to override any union law.
Party insiders said that during a brainstorming meeting on the farm bills, Congress’ top legal brain Abhishek Singhvi had referred to Jaitley’s argument to advise the Congress-ruled states to make their own farm laws.
Both Singhvi and Jaitley had referred to Article 254(2) in The Constitution Of India that said, “Where a law made by the Legislature of a State with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the concurrent List contains any provision repugnant to the provisions of an earlier law made by Parliament or an existing law with respect to that matter, then, the law so made by the Legislature of such State shall, if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent, prevail in that State: Provided that nothing in this clause shall prevent Parliament from enacting at any time any law with respect to the same matter including a law adding to, amending, varying or repealing the law so made by the Legislature of the State.”
Singhvi, however, also cautioned his party colleagues that the President of India might not give his assent to the state laws on this issue as the farm bill has taken a political turn and led to massive protests both by NDA’s political opponents as well as farmer bodies.