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Winter Fog Over Parliament Session

Winter Fog Over Parliament Session

On the penultimate day of the parliament’s winter session, the journalists sitting in the press gallery of Lok Sabha could read the growing anguish on the face of veteran BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani. As the feisty opposition continued its protest over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s absence from the House and other accumulated grudges, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan had to again adjourn the House amidst slogan shouting and noisy scenes when Advani was heard telling his colleagues, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, that he feels like resigning [from the House].  The 89-year old leader, who has the record of never losing an election, made his pain at the parliament’s conversion into a slugfest between the two political sides, leading to a near washout of the session known to one and all. He was heard telling everyone that he had never seen such prolonged paralysis of the Parliament in his long political career. Earlier too Advani, who ironically is the member of the exalted “Margdarshak (guiding) mandal” of BJP was seen telling the fellow MPs that he could not understand why no authority – government, opposition and the Speaker – is taking up the responsibility of running the House.

In fact the month-long winter session, which began on November 16, had the lofty business of debating and possibly passing the 10 key proposed laws including the one on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) before it. It had highly curtailed 22 sittings where government could just manage to get four bills passed amidst the raging tension between the opposition and the Narendra Modi government. The passage of these bills was done in the most undesirable way – without proper debates and by rushing through. Over all the Lok Sabha functioned to 15 per cent of its capacity and the Rajya Sabha to 17 per cent during the current session. Tax payers can calculate the money that has gone waste on the session given the fact that each minute of the proceedings costs the exchequer Rs 2.5 lakh, which comes to a whooping Rs 2 crore per day!

Winter sessions had started just a week after India had been subjected to the shock of being told that 86 per cent of their cash has become invalid in the Narendra Modi government’s demonetization. While the session was an opportunity for the opposition to raise the issue of angst and anxieties of the common people and to make the government answerable to the heaps of miseries that demonetization had brought to them, for the government, it was an occasion to come clean on its policy, offer clarifications and remove the ever growing doubts about the government’s real intentions behind the world’s largest note swap exercise.

However, in spite of enjoying an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to skip the Parliament for reasons best known to him and thereby giving a ruse to the opposition to raise the issue and disrupt the parliament. In a parliamentary democracy, while the opposition has the right to dissent and sometimes cause embarrassment to the government by such moves, the onus of running both the two Houses of parliament – by making all attempts to bring the opposition to the negotiating table to end the logjam – is always on the government. The Modi government visibly made no such effort.

On who is responsible for the deadlock, the CPI leader D Raja said, “The BJP-led government and the Prime Minister should be held responsible for the deadlock that is going on in the parliament. It’s not that the opposition parties do not want parliament to function. In fact opposition parties are demanding a meaningful debate on the issue of demonetization and we want Prime Minister’s presence and his intervention in the parliament.”

Modi, on the other hand, conveniently chose to blame the opposition for not allowing him to speak on demonetization in the Parliament. In his familiar melodramatic style told people in his home state of Gujarat that he is not allowed to speak in the Parliament hence he has come to ‘jansabha’. That time Modi looked every inch an opposition leader, someone who was on a campaign spree before the Lok Sabha elections. He hardly exuded the dignity and moral authority of a Prime Minister. Many analysts feel the BJP government’s hostile attitude to a decimated opposition particularly Congress stems from the fact that the party is yet to get out of the mindset of an opposition and take on the responsibilities of the ruling party. By the end of the session, it was becoming absolutely clear that the government was consciously avoiding a debate on demonetisation in the Parliament in view of growing frustration and anger of people on the never-ending impact of the ill-planned move on their lives. Instead of mollycoddling the opposition and making sure the functioning of Parliament, the BJP government chose to hit back at the Congress with the Agusta Westland chopper deal. While all were hoping that the government would make concerted efforts to bring the opposition to conduct business in the parliament at the fag end of the session, the ruling party was, once again, seen in the opposition mode as its leaders said it was time to discuss the alleged role of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the chopper deal. BJP has always been paranoid of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s popularity and targeting the Italy-born Sonia Gandhi for all the wrong reasons. To be fair to Sonia Gandhi, she has lived her life is an ‘ideal bahu’ (daughter-in-law) adopting her husband’s home, culture and family as her own. People have accepted and liked her in the role of a leader, who rejuvenated the party founded by her great grand father-in-law. The BJP’s single track agenda of targeting Sonia in successive elections, therefore, had lost its relevance. And if the party is trying to re-run the campaign to browbeat the Congress on the floor of Parliament, it could turn out to be its biggest mistake.

Sources inside the BJP say that party was rattled by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s scathing attack on Modi on corruption and hence slipped back in the opposition mode by hitting back on Congress.  

The fact is that in recent years, Parliament’s proceedings have been marred by frequent disruptions, noisy scenes and deterioration in quality of debates. This is a worrying thing for all those who value parliamentary democracy but never was this tendency abetted by the ruling party before.

(Published on 19th December 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 51)#