New Delhi: For the second year in a row, the government faced embarrassment in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday as Opposition parties joined hands to force an amendment to the motion of thanks on the President's address, despite an appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to approve it unanimously.
The amendment added a line to the motion of thanks, saying the Rajya Sabha regretted that the president's address did not mention that the government is committed to securing the fundamental right of all citizen to contest elections at all levels.
The motion of thanks read: "The members of the Rajya Sabha assembled in this session are deeply grateful to the president for the address he has been pleased to deliver to both houses of parliament assembled together on February 23 2016... but regret that the address does not mention that the government is committed to securing the fundamental right of all citizen to contest election at all level, including panchayat, to further strengthen the foundations of democracy which also forms part of the basic structure of constitution and is consistent with the spirit of the 73rd amendment to the constitution intended to expand and encourage the poor and the marginalised without embossing education or any limitation on the right to contest election."
The motion of thanks is a message sent to the president separately by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha for his address to the joint sitting of both the houses at the beginning of the budget session every year.
The address itself is prepared by the government, but read out by the president.
Traditionally, the motion of thanks has been passed without changes, but last year, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury moved an amendment which was passed, and this time it was leader of opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad who moved the amendment.
This was despite the prime minister's appeal.
The prime minister, in his reply to the debate on the motion of thanks, said: "I will appeal to the members, trusting the president's vision, withdraw the amendments and pass the motion of thanks unanimously."
However, that was not to be.
Azad moved the amendment with reference to the education qualifications set for panchayat elections in Haryana and Rajasthan, even as the two states were not mentioned in the motion.
Leader of the house Arun Jaitley argued that the amendment could not be moved as it referred to an issue that came under the state subject.
"If we put this to vote, every state will have the right to move resolution criticising the decisions made by parliament," Jaitley said.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu also pointed out that the right to contest election was not a fundamental right, unlike the right to vote.
He said that the Centre had no role in the decision.
Despite the government's attempts, Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien permitted the amendment as it did not refer to any state.
"There is no mention of any state legislature. If there was a direct mention, we could have considered it in a different way," Kurien said, deciding to put the amendment to vote.
It was then passed by the upper house after a division, which involved electronic voting. As many as 94 of the 155 members present in the house voted in favour.
The opposition members were seen cheering the verdict, as the treasury benches appeared glum.
Interestingly, none of the Bahujan Samaj Party members were present in the house at the time of voting, even though its supremo Mayawati was present during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech.
In 2015, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury had moved a motion regretting that there was no mention of corruption and black money in the president's speech.
Azad, during the course of the debate, had asked the Centre to bring in legislation to roll back the provision on minimum educational qualifications, made mandatory for fighting panchayat elections in Rajasthan and Haryana.
Modi, in his reply, snubbed Azad, and said the parties protesting the imposition of minimum qualifications should give 30 percent tickets to illiterate candidates in the coming assembly polls (in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry).
"There is attempt to bring qualitative change in politics. Some are giving it political colours. Those who say what about those who remained uneducated, I will urge them to give 30 percent tickets to illiterate candidates," Modi said.