Friday, June 14, 2013


Oil Minister M Veerappa Moily said on Friday that petroleum ministers are "threatened" by import lobbies regarding not to take decisions that will cut India's USD 160 billion oil imports.
Moily, who has been under attack from the CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta for proposing to hike natural gas prices by 60 percent, said he has been striving to attract investments in almost stagnant oil and gas exploration which will lead to higher domestic output and lesser reliance on imports.
"I am telling you with all sense of responsibility (that) we are floating in oil and gas in this country. And we don't explore it. We put every obstruction not to do it. There is bureaucratic obstructions and delays.
"And also there are other lobbies. They don't want us to stop imports. There are some lobbies who are working on that. Every minister is threatened many a times. Every minister who occupies this position is threatened," he told reporters.Moily however refused to name anyone or identify anyone who may have directly or indirectly threatened ministers.
"History will speak about it. It is for you to judge," he said, adding oil imports will rise dramatically if domestic production is not incentivised through right pricing policy. "This (increase in oil imports) will work to the detriment of the country. We are challenged by the vagaries of international price," he said.
The revision in natural gas prices was aimed at reviving investor confidence and attracting investments, he added. "For the last 4-5 years, investor sentiments is not that high... We have to give right price, otherwise nobody will come. One well (in the ultra deepsea) may sometime cost in millions of dollars," he said.
Moily said he has proposed to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) the raising of domestic gas prices from current USD 4.2 per million British thermal unit to USD 6.775. He further said he will not be cowed down by any lobby and will continue to work for any India energy independent by 2030.
"I am not helpless. Any timid minister will not go forward... I have come here to strive hard for the sake of the country, to work for the country. If anybody thinks that decision making process in the oil sector will be prevented they are totally wrong," he said.
"After having dismantled many of the obstacles, it is in the national interest to go for aggressive exploration. Investors should also come. They should be attracted it is not done now," Moily said.
India spent a recored USD 160 billion on import of oil last fiscal and the geographical progression is that imports are going up, he added. Raising domestic oil and gas production by increased exploration is the answer but decisions are not taken which is hurting the country. "Decisions are not taken. Trend is not to take decisions here. I don't want to blame anybody. This is the fate of the country," he said.
Asked about Dasgupta's allegations that the gas price hike was to benefit Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), he said he and his ministry are open to any solution that will help unshackle the present grid of non-investment-no-production and increased imports.
"I had called him (Dasgupta) but he is not prepared to come for a discussion. But I can reassure Gurudas Dasgupta or whosoever is there in the market, all the criticism should be there, but it should not get personal," he said.
"I am open to any suggestion by Gurudas Dasgupta or any other person. If they can come out with best solution, we are open it as after all we are doing this in the interest of the country.
"But in the process of ego, in the process of lobbying and in the process of just criticising for stake of criticism or in the process of politicising, don't commit national crime. Don't prevent exploration in the country. Let us move ahead more aggressively, it is in the best interest of the country," he said.

Domination of Pakistan by Radical Islamists

June 14, 2013
The Pakistani Radical Islamists (RIs) seem to have been the actual winners in the recently concluded Pakistan elections. The RIs, comprising the Pashtuns belonging to the Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan, their Punjabi and Pakistan based Kashmiri cohorts belonging to a big chunk of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Jamaat-ud Daw’ah, almost the entire Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and a number of other radical Islamic militant groups, swear allegiance to Deobandi/Wahabi/Salafi schools of Islam. They also identify with Al-Qaida’s radical Islamic philosophy of a global Islamic order through jihad. A recent illustration by Pakistani cartoonist, Sabir Nazar,, succinctly sums up the ascendancy of the RIs in Pakistan’s current political discourse. The cartoon, while portraying “Old Pakistan” shows a Taliban gunman putting his AK-47 on the head of a Pakistani politician of ANP/PPP variety, who is standing somewhat bewildered but firm. The ‘New Pakistan’ is portrayed by the same Taliban with a grin on his face and his gun slung on the shoulder, as a politician, looking like Imran Khan, kneels down at his feet

Civil and military structures side lined by the Radical Islamists:

Between the years 2001 and 2012, the Pakistani RIs had effectively impeded the capability of the civilian organs of the state to take them on and effectively deal with them. They had also significantly eroded the Pakistan Army’s will and commitment to challenge and leash them, since the launching of Army’s operations in Swat in 2010.1 A Pakistani Army under the burden of its own Islamism and contradictions always had a confused approach to dealing with the RIs. 2 It wanted to put them down for their disruptive capabilities yet, it also had a nagging acceptance of their jihadist agenda due to Deobandi/Salafi orientation of a very large segment of its own rank and file, its jihadist approach to warfare and self-created perceptions of perpetual hostility with India. The RIs, particularly the Taliban, were also its tools to gain a ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. 3
Even while commencing anti-militancy operations against the RIs in 2001 under US pressure, the Pakistan Army was always on the look-out for ways to extricate itself from that conflict. Initially it went after the foreign Al-Qaida cadres, leaving out the Pashtun RIs. 4 Then it fell on to such other strategy as using its non-Punjabi Shiite troops from the Balti dominated Northern Light Infantry (NLI). 5 However, as the operations against RIs expanded, more and more Punjabi Sunni troops were sucked into operations against Taliban, particularly as the Pashtun troops had to be kept out of it due to doubts about their reaction after some earlier large scale surrenders to the Islamist Pashtun groups. As a result, the Punjabi casualties began to mount.
Pakistan Army had not bargained for a prolonged and intense internal security campaign for which it was ill prepared and which was directed against ‘assets’ whom it had painstakingly nurtured until the other day as part of its jihadist agenda and strategies. And when the RIs began to make inroads in Punjab, particularly the South Punjab from where a large number of Army recruits came, it began to look frantically for means to disentangle itself from that conflict.6 Behind the scene deals with RIs became the favoured strategy. The contours of these deals generally followed the line: Don’t attack us, return our soldiers captured by you unharmed and we will not attack you and pay you handsomely. Through its reluctance to further expand the conflict with the RIs to newer areas like South Waziristan, Karachi, South Punjab, etc. the Pakistan Army even began to tacitly acknowledge that it had basically no problems with IR’s religious agenda and it could, live with it7 , provided in the ‘shariatised’ state of Pakistan its privileges and positions remained undisturbed.
The assassination of Major General Ameer Faisal Alvi, the former Commander of the famed SSG (Special Service Group) in broad daylight in Islamabad in the recent past underlined the extent to which the army had changed its attitude towards RIs. Alvi was killed by well trained gunmen, who pumped 9mm bullets into him in a clinical manner after meticulously ambushing his car and not by ramming a VIED into his vehicle, or blowing him up by a suicide bomber, or in a land-mine explosion that have been the hallmark of IR attacks. This assassination took place soon after Alvi had written to General Kayani telling him about the deals some of his senior Corps Commanders were striking with the RIs, instead of going after them with zeal and determination. There was not even a whisper from Kayani or the GHQ on either Alvi’s complaint or his assassination. 8

Subjugation of the political process:

After having forced the Army to a ‘tacit accommodation’ for the moment, the RIs moved to the next phase of their campaign that sought to subvert and dominate the polity of the country. The Taliban’s determination to demolish western democracy based political system has repeatedly been declared loud and clear by terming it as ‘un-Islamic’. 9 In December 2012, TTP attacked an ANP rally in Peshawar and issued public warnings to attack secular parties. 10 As the electoral process for Pakistan’s 2013 elections got under way, RIs’ challenges became even shriller. In mid-April, the Taliban Shura met and decided to selectively target “those secular political parties, which were part of the previous coalition involved in the operation in Swat, FATA and other areas of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa”. 11 This clearly meant that the PPP, ANP and the MQM who resisted the RIs, had to be sidelined through terror. The statement further clearly prescribed the preference for the voters by declaring that it was “neither in favour of …nor against” the PML-N, PTI, JUI (F) and the JI, presumably due to their pro-Islamist stance and close links with the Pakistani RIs. Pamphlets were issued by TTP and its allies in FATA, KP and Karachi, warning the citizens not to vote in the upcoming elections. 12 The threat to derail Pakistani democracy was repeated on the eve of second anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing. 13 A number of attacks on secularist parties in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan accompanied these statements.

Army a mute bystander:

As the self-professed guardian of the Pakistani state, one expected the Pakistan Army to come out forcefully to counter RIs’ threat to the democratic exercise of holding elections and publically declare its resolve to protect the entire electoral process by extending security cover to all political parties and their electoral activities. Instead, in a strange coincidence, Kayani almost simultaneously with the RIs spoke of Pakistani Army’s commitment “to the basis for creation of Pakistan”. He asserted, “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan. Islam should always remain a unifying force…Pakistan Army would keep on doing its best towards common dream for a truly Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”14 To RIs threat of hijacking the electoral process, he merely mouthed the platitude (in another statement) that “The armed forces would utilize all resources to ensure that the polls are held in a fair and transparent manner.” Perhaps, he was limiting the Army’s role to only ensuring ‘peaceful’ polling and protecting the entire electoral process was not on his agenda. He significantly went on to add, “Like every Pakistani, the Army is also doing its bit to strengthen democracy…There is no place for looting and personal gains in a democracy and only honest (people) can end the game between democracy and dictatorship”. 15

Disruption of campaigning by secularist parties:

This attitude of the Army clearly sealed the fate of anti-radical forces in Pakistani elections. There were numerous attacks on ANP leaders and workers in Karachi and KP. PPP leaders and cadres were forced to keep a low profile, with the Chairman of the party, Bilawal Bhutto staying away from direct campaigning and not coming out to directly address any public meeting, even the one to mark the death anniversary of his maternal grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, held at his grave at Garhi Khuda Baksh in Larkana. The MQM resisted the RIs in its strongholds in Karachi by replying fire with fire. However, outside Karachi its cadres were also forced to maintain a low profile. A look at the media pictures and the video footage of the election campaigning makes it very clear that in Punjab and KP it were the favoured pro-Islamist parties that could stage large scale political rallies in the traditional manner of electioneering and PPP and others were reduced to holding small street corner meetings and door-to-door campaigning that too almost furtively. Wherever workers of ‘secularist’ parties tried to be active, they were promptly targeted by the RIs. Former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s son was attacked and kidnapped virtually from his door steps. He and his brother also lost their Provincial Assembly elections by a huge margin in an area which the senior Gilani had pampered during his premiership. Same was the case with practically all PPP and ANP candidates in Punjab and KP where the RIs’ writ seems to have run supreme. Even in Balochistan the impact of the RIs is clear from the fact that pro-Islamist PkMAP, PML-N and JUI (F) bagged a majority of seats, pushing the Baloch nationalists to the side lines and totally wiping out the PPP. The sweeping of elections by PML-N and the PTI was a foregone conclusion in Punjab and KP also. The question remained who would head the results tally and if the RIs would be forced to engineer a pro-Islamist coalition government after elections. The results ensured that the IR would not have to be bothered.

RIs ensure electoral supremacy of favoured parties:

Thus in the post election Pakistan it is the RIs who have their clients in power in Islamabad and in the provincial capitals in Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta. The PML-N, PTI and JUI (F) would almost invariably follow pro-Islamist policies because of their personal convictions and conveniences. But, should they begin to waver, the RIs’ warning to them is boldly on the wall. In its pre-election warning the TTP had, while immediately targeting the PPP, ANP, and the MQM, also stated, “We are neither in favour of the PTI, JI, JUI-F and PML-N nor against them.. We are against the secular and democratic system, which is against the ideology of Islam, but we are not expecting any good from the other (i.e. these) parties either, who are the supporters of the same system, but why they are not (being) targeted is our own prerogative to decide.” 16 The desire to be on the right side of the RIs, particularly the TTP was clearly visible in the PML-N, the PTI and JUI (F), as soon as the lections were over.

The call for ‘peace’ and ‘negotiations’ with TTP:

The successful pro-RI political parties, the PML (N), JUI (F), the PTI and the JI did not loose any time to began clamouring for moves to initiate ‘peace’ with the Taliban. The TTP, on its part, has been airing its conditions for a ceasefire from time to time. In November 2012, its top leader Hakimullah Mehsud spoke of a “ceasefire” though without renouncing the armed struggle or trusting the Pakistan Army, if the Pakistani government agreed to implement the Shariat (Islamic Law), broke all ties with the United States, stopped interfering with Talibanoperations against the government in Kabul, and agreed to refocus on a war of “revenge” against India. 17 Repeating these conditions a short while later, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan also called the Pakistan government to re-write its laws and constitution in accordance with the shariat18 Recently in February 2013, the Taliban repeated this call with a twist by suggesting that Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman of the JUI (F), Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N and Munawwar Hassan of JI should be the interlocutors and the guarantors of any deal between the TTP and the government! This appeal was made in the name of pan-Islamic unity in the wake of French intervention in Mali with tacit US backing. 19
Nawaz Sharif, who had been on record for having advised the PPP government to seriously take up the TTP offer for ‘talks’, 20 in his very first statement after the elections repeated his stand for peace parleys with the TTP in accordance with their earlier announcement. “All options should be tried and guns are not solutions to all problems”, he said. 21 Soon enough Pak media reports indicated a plan by PML-N and the JUI (F) to engage TTP through a “Grand Peace Jirgah” that had been mooted in an all party conference hosted by JUI (F) in February. 22There appeared to be a competition between PML-N and the PTI in proving themselves to be a bigger loyalist to the TTP than the other. PTI was conspicuously stayed away from PML (N)-JUI (F) plan. Instead, it joined up with Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman’s rival, Maulana Sami-ul Haq to approach the TTP for ‘peace’. 23 Maulana Sami-ul Haq, the leader of his faction of the JUI, known as JUI (S), and the president of the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz, is considered by many as the ‘Father’ of the Taliban and is closely associated with their alma mater the Dar-ul Uloom Haqqania at Akhora Khattak in KP. Even the JI is more favourably inclined to this initiative and is also keen to join the PTI led coalition in KP. The party had indicated its interest in having the Education Ministry in the provincial government by announcing that it did not intend to ‘radicalise’ school text-books. 24
However, the initial rush of adrenal among the new victors of the elections for a quick-fix deal with the TTP seems to have quietened down somewhat. Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman announced his unwillingness to broker peace with the Taliban anymore, because of “disinterest shown by the establishment, there is no opportunity or atmosphere for negotiations”. The “establishment” was identified as the Army by JUI (F)’s spokesman. He felt that any reconciliation with Taliban was impossible if coercive measures continued to be taken. 25 It is quite clear that after having gained clear ascendency in Pakistan, the RIs are neither willing to tone down their Islamic agenda, nor allowing their de facto control over large areas of FATA, KP and northern Baluchistan to be diluted. The Army, on its part, is not willing to coexist with the RIs without the latter giving up their weapons and once again agreeing to become a pliable tool in the hands of the former.

Nawaz Sharif’s pro-Islamist track record:

During his earlier stints as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif had openly betrayed an Islamist agenda and had been more than willing to go along with Islamic militancy. In his first stint as PM, he appointed Lt. Gen. Javed Nassr, a staunch pan-Islamist as the ISI Chief. Under Nassr, the ISI started to recruit Dawood Ibrahim and his gang and planned the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993; arranged various Europe based pan-Islamic organisations manned by Pak origin persons to route aid to Bosnian Muslims and himself arranged to airlift a substantial amount of weapons to them from Pakistan which effectively retarded EU’s attempts to keep Bosnia united; and aided Uighur rebellion in China’s Xinjiang province. Pakistan’s clandestine proliferation of nuclear technology also started during Nawaz Sharif’s first innings as PM. In his second innings, apart form Kargil (about which his loud protestations of innocence have to be taken with a lot of salt in view of Pakistani academics’/journalists’ assertions of his complicity), Nawaz Sharif has also to be remembered for his 1998 efforts to shariatise Pakistan through the legislative process in the form of Fifteenth Amendment to the Pakistani Constitution to ordain: “The Federal Government [shall be] under an obligation to take steps to enforce theShariat, to establish salat, to administer zakat, to promote amr bil ma’roof and nahi anil munkar(to prescribe what is right and to forbid what is wrong), to eradicate corruption at all levels and to provide substantial socio-economic justice, in accordance with the principles of Islam, as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” 26 The move fell through, as Nawaz Sharif could not ensure the passage of this legislation in the Senate where he did not have majority. If he had succeeded, he would have pushed Pakistan deeper into Islamization mould then even General Zia-ul Haq had done.

Links between PML (N) government in Punjab and the RIs:

Even in the post 2008 elections, Nawaz’s PML and the IR factions, particularly the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) had a tacit understanding to accommodate each other and, according to Pakistani columnist Ayesha Siddiqa, not to hurt the Sharif family in return for freeing of SSP leaders and accommodating its cadres into government jobs. Many academics and journalists have also pointed out that the Punjab government made budgetary allocations to Jamaat-ud Daw’ah and a number of its front institutions during this period. 27 In the recent elections, the PML-N gave tickets to various personalities belonging to religious outfits who had been accused of and even tried for terrorism related offences, to contest National and Provincial Assembly seats. These include, Chaudhary Abid Raza Gujjar of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sardar Ebaad Dogr, Maulana Ilyas Chinoti and Maulana Hafiz Abdul Kareem of SSP. Some other radicalists, who successfully contested as independents, have also joined PML-N after the elections. According to Pakistani journalist Mohammad Shehzad, given the TTP’s uncompromising stand against ‘un-Islamic’ Pakistani constitution and democracy, “The state may not be able to make a compromise on any of these points”. 28

The future portends and the implications for India:

The assertions of the new Pakistan government of Nawaz Sharif to de-radicalise the society by engaging the RIs in a dialogue and accommodation with them in reality means, to many observers, a meek surrender to Islamic radicalism of Deobandi variety. Now that they are in the driving seat, the RIs are not likely to push their agenda of shariatisation of Pakistan immediately. For the present, their focus could be on Afghanistan where they can take on a withdrawing NATO and a weak Karzai government and without being perturbed by the fear of being stabbed in the back by a Pakistani government, willing to succumb to the US pressures, or a weakened Pakistan Army which may not have the capability to manipulate players in Afghanistan again, just as it had done during Taliban control. However, once they have achieved their goals in Afghanistan, or even ensured their supremacy and complete control in Pashtun areas of the country, the Taliban and their Pakistani RIs associates are likely to revert back to complete their unfinished Islamic agenda in Pakistan.
There are many pitfalls for all the key sides in the current Pakistani political scene. The killing of TTP’s second-in-command Wali-ur Rehman in a drone attack on May 29, 2013 in Miranshah in FATA is one such pitfall which can upset calculations of all. Expectedly, the TTP has announced suspension of all ‘peace’ talks following the killing of Wali-ur Rehman and vowed revenge. It has also blamed the Pakistani government and the Army for secretly cooperating with the Americans for the drone strikes. Its ‘revenge’ can not directly target the US, but it can come by attacking the Pak Army and other ‘secret’ anti-Taliban elements in Pakistan. The latter could also include some selected persons from the incoming PML (N) political dispensation, who could be targeted as a warning. The PTI has already upped the ante by asking the incoming government to have the drone strikes stopped either through negotiations with the Americans or through force. If the TTP also take this refrain and as a price for their continuing support to Nawaz Sharif demand countering of the drone strikes by Pakistan military, it would force Sharif government to start on the wrong foot. The Taliban can add weight to their demand also by once again disrupting NATO/US cargo movement to and from Afghanistan, thereby, adding to the US problems in Afghanistan.
The post-election ‘new Pakistan’ has some significant implications for India. How much can India trust Nawaz Sharif’s peaceful overtures, given his past track record and his current equations with Pakistani RIs? How much reliance can India lay in Nawaz Sharif’s capability, or intent, to reign in the Islamic militants, as far as their trans-national agenda, particularly in Afghanistan and Kashmir, are concerned? For the moment it would appear that Nawaz Sharif does not have leverage over the RIs in Pakistan and he may be forced to go along with them, if for nothing then just to buy internal peace and stability for his regime. The RIs could in the meanwhile accelerate their sectarian agenda and increase pressures against Shias and the Barelvis, with Hindu and Christian minorities already having been reduced to nothing in Pakistan.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.
  1. 1.IDSA Task Force Report: Whither Pakistan? Growing Instability and Implications for India
  2. 2.Please see Radicalization of the Pakistan Army, JOURNAL OF DEFENCE STUDIES, Volume: 5 Issue:4
  3. 3.Ahmad Rashid, Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia
  4. 4.Imtiaz Gul, The Al-Qaeda Connection
  5. 5.As claimed by workers of the Balwaristan Independence Movement during their closed door interaction .in 2011.
  6. 6.From FATA to South Punjab,
  7. 7.\11\23\story_23-11-2011_pg1_4;, Jan 12, 2013
  8. 8.Who killed Maj. Gen. Faisal Alvi,; The Daily Times,‎
  10. 10.The Dawn, 10/12/2012 and other news papers.
  11. 11.The Dawn April 28,2013
  12., April 25, 2013
  13. 13.The News International, May 5, 2013
  14. 14.Kayani’s speech at a passing out parade at PMA Kakul, April 20, 2013, The Dawn, April 21, 2013
  15. 15.Kayani’s speech at Yom-e-Shuhada (Martyrs Day) Parade at GHQ, April 30, 2013,, 30/4/13
  16. 16.The Dawn April 28,2013
  17., The News International, Nov. 27, 2012
  18. 18.Ibid
  20., 19/5/2013
  21. 21.The Dawn (web edition), May 20, 2013
  22. 22.Pak media, 27/5/2013
  23. 23.The Dawn, May 21, 2013
  24.,/news/1012840, 23/5/2013
  25. 25.The Dawn June 4, 2013, June 7, 2013
  26. 26.The News, February 17, 2009
  27. June 18,2010;
  28. 28.The Friday Times, 24/5/201

 Government plans to convene a special session of Parliament for passage of the Food Security Bill as a divided Cabinet on Thursday shunned the idea of promulgating an Ordinance to implement the watershed legislation.
A meeting of the Cabinet could not arrive at a decision on bringing an Ordinance to implement the UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi's pet programme and instead decided to court Opposition parties for passage of the bill in a special Parliament session.
Home Minister and Leader of the Lok Sabha Sushil Kumar Shinde, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Food Minister K V Thomas will meet opposition leaders to elicit their support for passage of the key legislation, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said after the Cabinet meeting.
"The Food Security Bill is ready. We would like to pass it as a bill but Ordinance version of bill is also ready. We decided today that we would like to make one more effort to ask the Opposition parties whether they will cooperate in passing the bill in a special session of Parliament," he said.
Thomas said the Ordinance route has not been completely shelved and remains an option available to the government. The Food Security Bill was tabled in the Budget session of Parliament but could not be taken up for discussion due to pandemonium in the Lok Sabha over various scams.
The Bill aims to give legal rights to 67 per cent of the population over a uniform quantity of 5 kg foodgrains at a fixed price of Rs 1-3 per kg through ration shops.
Chidambaram said if the support from the Opposition parties is "forthcoming" then the food bill will be passed in a special session of Parliament.
"Based on the response of the main Opposition, we will have to take a view. Our intention is to get it (Food Bill) passed in a special session of Parliament and we are making one more effort to ask the Opposition parties to support us," the Minister said.

If the Opposition parties agree for passage of the bill in Parliament, Chidambaram said, "a special session could be called pretty early, We would like to pass the bill as early as possible."

Briefing separately, Thomas said: "We have taken a decision because many political parties including BJP have requested it should be discussed in Parliament.

"The Prime Minister has consulted everybody, so we have decided lets have a special Parliament session. ...only thing is that political parties should take a positive view."

Thomas said the proposal of Ordinance is still with the Cabinet.

"We are deferring the decision on Ordinance but it is not withdrawal. ...We will start the discussion with all the political parties (on Food Bill) and if they are willing to cooperate, then will have a special Parliament session."

Congress considers the proposed Food law, which was promised in the election manifesto of 2009 general elections, as a game changer for the next elections.

The government would require 62 million tonnes of foodgrains annually to implement the Food Bill.

It would cost the exchequer about Rs 1.25 lakh crore subsidy annually which will be about Rs 25,000 crore more than the current level.
Would like food bill preferably passed by Parliament: Cong
As the Union Cabinet shunned the ordinance route on the food bill issue, Congress said no option is ruled out over the legislation, though it would prefer its passage by Parliament.

"We would like this bill preferably passed by Parliament, but no option is ruled out," party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday.

He hoped that there would be further consensus on the watershed legislation among all political parties and that it will be passed in the coming session of Parliament.

His remarks came close on the heels of government announcing plans to convene a special session of Parliament for passage of the ambitious measure which is seen as a game changer by the party in the Lok Sabha polls not far away.

Earlier in the day, a meeting of the Cabinet could not arrive at a decision on bringing an ordinance to implement UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi's pet programme and instead decided to court Opposition parties for passage of the bill in a special Parliament session.

Noting that the Congress was committed for the bill, Ahmed said that no option is ruled out if there was no consensus and Parliament remained paralysed due to disruptions.

He brushed aside questions that government deferred the issue of ordinance following threat by SP of withdrawal of support.

The bill was tabled in the Budget session of Parliament but could not be taken up for discussion due to pandemonium in the Lok Sabha over various scams.

The bill aims to give legal rights to 67 percent of the population over a uniform quantity of 5 kg foodgrains at a fixed price of Rs 1-3 per kg through ration shops.
Ahmed said that "Ordinance is not ruled out as an option" if efforts to reach consensus to pass the food security bill do not fructify.
"But our first priority is to build consensus on it. After discussion, the Cabinet has decided that we will talk to all parties and try to build a consensus. The government has showed that it has immense faith in democratic values.

"We are happy that the government is going to talk to different political parties to pass the bill. We do hope that the bill will be passed in the coming session," Ahmed said.

He also contended that "government never said categorically that we will bring an ordinance", a remark that was countered by reporters during the briefing, who cited Wednesday’s statements of Food Minister K B Thomas and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath in this regard.

"A political call has been taken on this (bringing an Ordinance to Food Bill). This is an important legislation. Discussions have been made at different levels and there is consensus. The Bill is coming for discussion before the Cabinet tomorrow," Thomas had said on Wednesday.

Asked if all allies especially NCP are on board on this issue, Thomas said, "Everybody in UPA government are together for Food Bill Ordinance."

Nath had also rejected the criticism of government on the issue of bringing an ordinance and put the blame for it on the Opposition.

He said notwithstanding Ordinance, there will be debate when the Ordinance goes to Parliament in Monsoon session.

"We will have a debate but why should we delay it even by a day....Parliament session is six to seven weeks away. We should not lose six to seven weeks," he had reasoned.

Ahmed, however, rejected the contention that the government withdrew under any pressure.

"If the government bulldozes something, then you will accuse that the government did not follow democratic process.

"Now you are accusing the government of succumbing to pressure, when we are talking of taking all parties on board," he said

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