Debate, not Disruptions, in Parliament a Much Better Way to Counter Modi Model of Politics
At this threshold of momentous change, what India needs the most is a strong Opposition in Parliament and a stronger leader in the Opposition. We don’t have either. The Congress is not even a recognised Opposition party in the Lok Sabha. Perhaps to avenge this diminution, all can observe that you have acquired a new vigour in the past few months after the self-imposed exile. You seem far more focused and relatively more visible both inside and outside Parliament and aggressively assertive in your stance. You have learnt the art of going colloquial to match your opponents to increase your image connect in this age of television. Last week, your resolve to reduce Modi’s 56 inches chest to 5-6 inches was hailed by your supporters. It signalled you will be leading the Congress onslaught against the NDA in the coming Parliament session. The blossoming of a clever politician who was once called ‘an Amul Baby who hadn’t grown out of his diapers’ is apparent. You are determined to prove your maturity by adopting a confrontationist agenda during the 5th session of the 16th Lok Sabha, which starts Tuesday.
You have picked up the Sangh Parivar’s gauntlet. You have chosen to strike where it hurts them the most. Your target is not the government but Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. Your promoters believe that it’s the right time to project you as an Alternative to Modi (ALTOMO). They feel this can be done using the institution of Parliament. You have challenged the government to get the Land Acquisition Bill passed. You have indicated the Congress wouldn’t allow legislation on any issue, which it perceives as ‘anti-people’. For the first time, a party with just 44 Lok Sabha MPs and 65 Rajya Sabha MPs was able to paralyse a government led by a mass leader like Modi, who created history by winning an absolute majority after 30 years. You have decided to pay back the BJP in the same coin, when they were in the Opposition. While the UPA was in power, the BJP hardly allowed the last few sessions of Parliament to conduct any business. Official figures list over 35 per cent of time wasted by frequent interruptions during the last few sessions of the 15th Lok Sabha. Lawmakers were engaged in facetious filibustering and charging into the well of both the Houses. Raising a din, staging occasional walkouts and short sit-ins are legitimate and tolerable instruments of protest in a democracy. But for the past three decades, using the might of numbers and lung power has become the favoured weapon to devastate democratic institutions.
During 1991-96, only 10 per cent of the total Lok Sabha time was lost through interruptions. Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao was not just a polyglot but also a pervasive persuader. In spite of leading a minority government for half of his term, he could strike a dialogue anytime, anywhere with any political foe. Your father Rajiv Gandhi had the gift to disarm his adversaries with a charming smile. He commanded a brute majority in Parliament, but during the last 18 months of his premiership, couldn’t run the House as effectively as his numerical strength permitted. During the time of the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Opposition preferred disruption to dialogue on political issues. About 22.5 per cent of the House’s time was lost to the onslaught of the octaves during 1999-2004. UPA I enjoyed smooth sailing in Parliament with minimum breaks except at the fag end of its life when the Indo-US Nuclear Treaty brought the House down. To prove it may be down but not out, the Congress and its allies haven’t lost any opportunity to taunt Modi incessantly during his first year in office. He, however, has been successful in getting his agenda through in the Lok Sabha—it sat for over 562 hours during all the four sessions put together. All the bobbery by the Congress and its non-BJP strategic partners lost the House barely 46 hours.
But the Congress hasn’t allowed the government to have its way in the Rajya Sabha, where the party plus others have a comfortable majority. In its last session, the Upper House spent 72 hours on 13 sittings. Over 21 hours were lost due to Opposition tintamarre over issues like the Land Bill, the statement made by the Prime Minister on his visits abroad and some objectionable remarks made by a few ruling party MPs. On July 31, 2014, Parliament sat for just four hours, out of which 1.55 were lost because your party wanted to discuss a minister’s phone being illegally tapped. Agreed, it’s your legitimate right to put the government on the mat. It is also conceded that it is the ruling party’s responsibility to ensure that the House functions smoothly. But Indian Parliament has become a Formula None track of verbal velocity and the party with the maximum decibel levels is declared the winner. Issues are hardly ever discussed.
As a seeker of stature, you can acquire more acceptability and earn the admiration of adversaries if you argue your case in Parliament instead—not by setting records for disruptions and walkouts, but by making the ruling party accept your terms. You should prove on the floor of the democratic temple what you stand for, instead of being just a scrimmager without substance. You have been mocked as one bereft of ideas. Parliament is not just a forum of disruption, but also a theatre where concepts to transform the nation are born. Your challenge, hence, is to prove that you can lead with thought and deed, and are not just a Gandhi with the right birth certificate.
I know it is difficult for you to distance the Congress from other Opposition parties while attacking the government on the floor of the House. But yours is India’s oldest party, which has ruled the nation for almost six decades. Your rivals blame you and your family for all that is wrong with the economy and the system. An attack on the Gandhi Parivar is their most powerful strategy to demolish the Congress. But as the leader and presumed inheritor of its legacy, it is your responsibility to ensure that the institution of Parliament is not reduced to a wrestling arena. It is well known that you are uncomfortable parleying with leaders opposed to the Idea of Modi. But you can always use Parliament as a forum to present an alternative agenda for good governance. By now you must be fully aware of the weaknesses of Modi and his government and the strengths of the debilitated Congress. India is now at a stage where it needs dialogue between the ruling party and its opponents to progress. If you are able to present a credible agenda for engagement in Parliament, it may turn out to be a much better way to diminish the Modi Model of Governance and Politics. There is no substitute for a healthy debate in a democracy.
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