Thiruvananthapuram: It looks like Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is determined to deprive the Opposition of the most powerful tool it has at its command in the Assembly: the adjournment motion.
At the all-party meeting convened by Speaker A N Shamseer before the Assembly convened on Thursday, the Chief Minister is said to have told the UDF leaders to point blank that it would be impossible to entertain all their notices for adjournment motions.
Adjournment motions are moved on the basis of rules 50, 51 and 52 of the Kerala Assembly Rules and Procedure. It is the power given to the Opposition to bring to the Assembly matters of urgent public interest. Essentially, it is a plea to the government to temporarily suspend all normal proceedings to debate a particular issue of public importance.
The ongoing anti-drug drive in the state was kicked off by an adjournment motion moved by Congress MLA P C Vishnunath.
During the last decade, especially after Ramesh Chennithala became the Opposition Leader, notices for adjournment motions have been given daily.
Generally, adjournment motions are eventually rejected. But even when they are rejected, the Opposition always has a window of opportunity.
It is usual for Speakers to allow the Opposition MLA who gave the notice to move the motion in the Assembly.Once a one-line motion is moved, the Speaker will first ask the concerned minister whether a discussion was necessary.
If not, the minister is given 8-10 minutes to argue why there was no need to suspend the Assembly over the issue.
The mover of the motion can now counter the minister's contentions. He/she will be given 10 minutes to make the case for adjourning the House to discuss what he/she thinks is a serious matter. After this, the minister is given another chance, this time to rebut the points made by the mover of the motion.
Finally, on the basis of what the minister says, the Speaker declares the rejection of the motion and demonstrates an eagerness to get on with the rest of the day's agenda.
The ritual practice is now for the Opposition to stage a walkout. So the Speaker allows the Opposition Leader to make his walkout speech. He will take nearly as much time as the minister. He ends with calling for a walkout.
Though technically the motion has been rejected, a discussion of over an hour takes place in the Assembly. The Opposition's walkout is merely symbolic, and they get back to their seats soon enough.
However, for the ruling party, the adjournment motion poses a major political conundrum. The Opposition Leader gets the last word. The ruling side will not get a chance to counter the Opposition Leader's arguments. An effective and thoroughly researched Opposition Leader like Satheesan can not just debunk the ruling side's arguments but can also raise new arguments that cannot be countered at least for the moment.
Of course, there have been rare occasions when adjournment motions were allowed, leading to a wider discussion on the issue involving more members from either side. For instance, the notices moved for a discussion on the SilverLine project and the attack on the AKG Centre.
In such cases, the last word will rest with the ruling side.
It is this weapon that the Chief Minister now wants to take back. The plan is not to allow an Opposition member to even move the motion. This way, any public issue can be put out of the way without any speeches.
When Onmanorama sought confirmation from the Opposition Leader, he said the Chief Minister did tell at the meeting that the adjournment motions would be curtailed. "We told him that if that was the decision we will not cooperate," Satheesan said.
Later he told reporters that the Chief Minister said only certain motions would be allowed. "It is as if the right is some kind of a favour from him," Satheesan said. "Clearly, the Chief Minister is afraid of the Opposition and he is doing all he can to stifle us," he said.
Further, he said there were even plans to amend the Assembly Rules and Procedures to allow the Chief Minister and ministers to speak after the Opposition Leader made his walkout speech. "This Chief Minister will go to any extent. He is going many steps ahead of even Modi. He is now trying to be a Stalin," the Opposition Leader said.
A top source said the Chief Minister was not in a mood to patch up with the Opposition Leader at the conciliatory meeting called by the Speaker early in the day.
"He had put on a very grave face. He gave ample signs that he would not relent come what may," the source said. The Chief Minister's grim attitude could also have been the result of Satheesan's personal remarks against PWD minister P M Muhammad Riyas. Satheesan had on March 15 said that Riyas was a management quota pick.
Mathew Kuzhalnadan MLA was also a subject of discussion at the all-party meeting held in the morning. Satheesan said the Chief Minister was getting needlessly worked up over the Opposition's performance and was unnecessarily blocking the speeches made by even a junior MLA like Mathew Kuzhalnadan. "Have you lost your memory," the Chief Minister is said to have shot back.
"Didn't you listen to the false imputations that he (Kuzhalnadan) was making," he said. This was a reference to the Chief Minister-Kuzhalnadan war of words on February 28 when the Congress MLA moved an adjournment motion in the Assembly on the drug menace in the state.
To this Satheesan is said to have asked: "Is this the first time a Chief Minister is criticised in the House?"
The meeting had ended in a deadlock, with both sides refusing to agree on any point.