India's political circles are abuzz after the Union government announced a special session of Parliament from September 18 to September 22. Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi announced on August 31 but provided little information on the session's agenda.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), he wrote, "special session of Parliament (13th Session of 17th Lok Sabha and 261st Session of Rajya Sabha) is being called from 18th to September 22 having five sittings. Amid Amrit Kaal looking forward to have fruitful discussions and debate in Parliament."
Special Session of Parliament (13th Session of 17th Lok Sabha and 261st Session of Rajya Sabha) is being called from 18th to 22nd September having 5 sittings. Amid Amrit Kaal looking forward to have fruitful discussions and debate in Parliament.— Pralhad Joshi (@JoshiPralhad) August 31, 2023
ಸಂಸತ್ತಿನ ವಿಶೇಷ ಅಧಿವೇಶನವನ್ನು… pic.twitter.com/k5J2PA1wv2
The decision has surprised one and all. The Opposition bloc INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) termed it as "managing the news cycle, Modi style" or an attempt to deflect attention or "as something up their sleeve".
Managing the News Cycle, Modi style.August 31, 2023
1. News today has been dominated by latest revelations on the Modani-scam.
2. Tomorrow the ever-growing INDIA parties meet in Mumbai.
How to counter?
Announce a 5-day special session of Parliament when Monsoon session has just ended 3…
While there is no clarity on what's in store for the five sittings, speculation is rife that the government would either introduce bills on issues such as 'One Nation, One Election', Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and women's reservation or a resolution to rename India as Bharat. It may even dissolve the Parliament and call for early elections.
But what exactly is going on? We sift through all the noise on the matter and deliver the answers you seek.
Call for a special session
Just a month after the Monsoon Session of Parliament ended, the Centre has called for a special session of Parliament.
At the recently concluded session, 20 bills were introduced in Lok Sabha, and five were introduced in the Rajya Sabha. According to records, while Lok Sabha passed 22 bills, the Upper House passed 25.
Meanwhile, sources told news agency IANS that the special session being called from September 18 will have no Question Hour, no Zero Hour and no private member business.
It has also been said that while the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs (CCPA) took the decision to convene the special session of Parliament, President Droupadi Murmu will issue the orders to summon it once she returns from Chhattisgarh.
Agenda for the special Parliament session
While the government has kept the agenda for the session under wraps, it has sparked speculation and rumours. Some believe that the government may bring up discussions to rename India as Bharat during Parliament's upcoming special session.
However, others have different ideas about it. Many believe that the special session has been summoned in order to advance the Lok Sabha elections to December, along with the coming round of assembly elections.
Earlier, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee claimed that the Modi government will call for early elections as it fears the Opposition's INDIA bloc.
Some have noted that the announcement timing matches with the assessment within government circles about the possibility of Lok Sabha being advanced from April-May to be clubbed with elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram.
Sources also told The Times of India (ToI) that they felt that going to the polls early would make political sense for the BJP.
Another rumour doing the rounds is that the Centre wants to push three special bills – "One Nation, One Election", Uniform Civil Code and Women's Reservation.
Political experts believe the government is especially keen on pushing the "One Nation, One Election" bill, which alludes to the idea of simultaneously holding the general and state elections. While the idea has been mooted several times previously by Opposition parties, Prime Minister Modi has backed it.
In 2020, PM Modi suggested a single voters' list for Lok Sabha, assembly and panchayat polls on Constitution Day, saying separate lists are a waste of resources.
He added that national interest should be the basis for every decision and that the legislature, executive and judiciary should work with better coordination.
The "One Nation, One Election" bill has also been supported by Home Minister Amit Shah.
In an ANI interview in February, he had said that "the time has come" to consider the proposal for 'One Nation, One Election'. He also claimed that people have raised concerns that separate elections are not healthy for a democratic country.
Others believe that the session could see the introduction of legislation for the Uniform Civil Code. For the unaware, the Uniform Civil Code is aimed at replacing personal laws based on religions, customs, and traditions with one common law for everyone, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, sexual orientation and gender. The BJP has been pushing for this legislation for long, and it was also part of their 2019 election manifesto.
However, a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leader speaking to LiveMint ruled out the possibility of introducing a Uniform Civil Code bill. "There is no plan whatsoever to bring a UCC bill now," he said.
There are reports that the Women's Reservation Bill, which proposes 33 per cent reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state assemblies, could also be introduced in Parliament. This bill had been passed in March 2010 in the Rajya Sabha but failed the Lower House hurdle.
Opposition questions special session
The Centre's call for a special session of Parliament sparked reactions from politicians across the board. While Congress' Rahul Gandhi said it indicated the Modi sarkar's panic, Sonia Gandhi listed nine issues and urged the Prime Minister to allow time for discussion on them in the upcoming special session.
Addressing a press conference on August 31, Rahul Gandhi said matters like that of allegations against Adani Group are "very close" to PM Modi, making him "uncomfortable" and "very nervous".
"I think maybe it is an indicator of a little panic. The same type of panic that happened when I spoke in Parliament House, the panic that suddenly made them revoke my Parliament membership. So, I think it is a panic because these matters are very close to the prime minister. Whenever you touch the Adani matter, the PM gets very uncomfortable and very nervous," Rahul Gandhi said.
The Congress also questioned the timing of the session, with spokesperson Jairam Ramesh saying it was an effort to shift attention from the Adani scandal.
Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi told The Indian Express: "It is typical over-dramatics. You don't share the agenda when a Parliament session is announced, keep people guessing; set the agenda through leaks; minimise notice period and opportunity; and never discuss nitty gritties where both god and devil reside…these are the hallmark characteristics of the BJP-NDA Modi government."
However, the Centre's decision has rattled the Opposition bloc, which believes the government is "up to something."
It is left to be seen what happens next, as the last time Parliament met outside its usual sessions was on June 30, 2017, at midnight to roll out GST. However, that was a joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and not a proper session.
History of special session of Parliament
The history of special sessions can be divided into two parts — proper special sessions with debates or discussions and the midnight sessions without any debates.
Special sessions with debates
November 26-27, 2015
A tribute to Dr BR Ambedkar on his 125th birth anniversary, the two-day special sitting in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha was part of year-long celebrations to pay respects to the architect of the Indian Constitution. The theme was to discuss its polity's commitment to the Constitution.
August 26 to September 1, 1997
The special session was called to commemorate India's 50th anniversary of independence. The agenda of the six-day session was to focus on the country's achievements, discuss its inadequacies, and the road ahead on the development path.
Under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the government called the special session after the then Jan Sangh Leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee pressed for it. The agenda included a discussion on the India-China war situation.
Midnight special sessions
August 14-15, 1947
The first session of the Indian Parliament was held on the eve of India's independence to witness the transfer of power from the British authorities to the Indian people. India began its independent, sovereign journey after 200 years of colonialism, as reflected in Nehru's "tryst with destiny" speech.
August 14-15, 1972
The session was held to celebrate 25 years of India's independence.
August 9, 1992
The midnight session was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the Quit India Movement or "Bharat Chhodo Andolan". With his "do or die" speech on August 8, 1942, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement that dealt the fatal blow to British colonialism in India.
August 14-15, 1997
The midnight session was organised to mark 50 years of independence.
June 30, 2017
It was the last special session organised in the Parliament to mark the GST rollout across India the next day.
Special sessions in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha
Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have separately held special sessions at times.
The Lok Sabha held a special session on May 13, 2012, a Sunday, to mark the 60th anniversary of the first sitting of the Parliament.
Special sessions were organised in the Rajya Sabha in 1977 and 1991 when the Lok Sabha was under dissolution to decide on the President's Rule.
The 1977 special session, or the 99th session on February 28 and March 1, was for the extension of the President's Rule in Tamil Nadu and Nagaland. The 158th session, held on June 3-4, 1991, was centred around the approval of the President's Rule in Haryana.