BJP chief Amit Shah is very displeased that several party lawmakers, including some ministers, were absent on Monday in the Rajya Sabha, where the government suffered acute embarrassment when the opposition managed to push crucial changes to a bill on backward classes.
Reprimanding the errant MPs, Mr Shah said at the BJP's weekly meeting of lawmakers today that he would meet them separately. They have also been asked to explain in writing why they were missing from the house when the bill was voted on.
"Of the absence of member the party president has taken a serious view. He said it should not have happened and must not be repeated," said union minister Ananth Kumar after the meeting. Mr Shah reminded party lawmakers that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had only last week said that they must be present at all times when proceedings are on in the two Houses of Parliament, stressing that it is the duty of treasury benches to ensure the passage of the government's legislative agenda.
PM Modi was not present at today's meeting, but he had last night sought a list of the MPs who were missing from the Rajya Sabha. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is Leader of the House, met senior ministers and MPs to discuss the embarrassment.
More than 30 MPs from the BJP and its allied parties on Monday, including at least five ministers, were missing when the Constitution amendment bill, which provides for the setting up of a National Commission for Backward Classes, was changed after amendments moved by the Opposition were passed by the Rajya Sabha, where the government is still in a minority and needs to ensure that its members are present in full strength when bills are taken up to be able to put up any resistance to an opposition challenge.
This despite a party whip, which makes it mandatory for lawmakers to be present in Parliament during a vote. At the party meeting today, senior Parliamentarian SS Ahluwalia explained what a party whip is and how it must be followed.
The bill was passed - without the main clause which relates to its composition -- by 74 to 52 votes. The BJP's strength alone is 56 in the Rajya Sabha, while it has the support of 88 members, counting all allies, including the 10 MPs of new partner Janata Dal United (JDU). The JDU's Sharad Yadav, who is upset over his colleague and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to partner with the BJP in the state, voted with the opposition. Others from his party were not present.
The amended bill will now have to be returned to the Lok Sabha for its fresh approval. The Lower House had already passed the bill, meant to upgrade the Backward Classes Commission from a statutory body to a constitutional body.