BJP's poll lesson: Value of argument over noise

BJP's poll lesson: Value of argument over noise

When the budget session of parliament ended last week, it was not the usual, predictable story of the time wasted because of disruptions in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Instead, it was how effective the 26 sittings of the budget session were and how the opposition cornered the government on more than one occasion.

As the government seemed to be taking the proceedings a trifle too lightly, the opposition mounted a spirited attack on the ruling coalition, not so much by creating a ruckus in the House as in the past, as by forcing the government on the backfoot. It lost no opportunity to embarrass the government, be it on absence of ministers or their failure to come up with convincing replies to questions raised. What’s more, Lok Sabha leader and senior minister, Pranab Mukherjee even had to apologise to the opposition regarding the brusque behaviour of a not so experienced colleague, C P Joshi.

The principal opposition —the BJP — did not resort to creating pandemonium in either of the Houses. If at all there were disruptions, they were thanks to the regional parties, mainly the SP and the BSP.

In the end, the contrast between the first full session of 2004 and that of 2009 was stark: In July 2004, the Lok Sabha worked for a mere 92 hours in a 24-day session and five years later, in a 26-day session, the House transacted business for 191 hours to discuss several issues and pass eight bills, including the one on the right to education, according to data compiled by a research organisation, PRS Legislative Research.

Needless to say, the reason lies in the recent election results. A demoralised opposition rightly realised that it won’t serve any purpose in creating a din in the House; rather it is better to take the bull by its horns. The result was dramatic: the government was forced to defer the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill after strong protests from the entire opposition and even some Congress members in Rajya Sabha. The government was obviously taken by surprise and Law Minister Veerappa Moily, who had introduced the bill in haste, had to withdraw it even faster.

This was followed by another embarrassment the government suffered in the Lok Sabha. The Rubber (Amendment) Bill could not be pushed through as the two commerce ministers who should have spearheaded the passage — cabinet minister Anand Sharma and his deputy Jyotiraditya Scindia — were both out of the country. The House did not agree to the bill being moved by MoS Prithviraj Chavan. Also in the Lok Sabha, when the Metro Railways (Amendment) Bill came up, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy’s suggestion to pass the bill without a debate was rejected by MPs, including Lalu Prasad and J P Agarwal (Congress).

Krishna had a tough time It all started with the opposition putting the government on the mat for the controversial joint statement issued by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan in Egypt, that ‘debracketed’ terror from the bilateral talks and inserted Balochistan for the first time, indirectly putting Indian external intelligence outfit RAW on the same footing as Pakistan’s ISI. Through the session, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna found the going tough and he was repeatedly reminded that it won’t serve to read out every time from the prepared text while answering questions/clarifications.

Jubilant at having had the UPA ministers “tie themselves in knots,” the BJP leaders had no hesitation in admitting that the strategy of disrupting parliamentary proceedings during the past five years, was not approved by the people of the country.

Deputy Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said as much at a press briefing. When pointed out by journalists that there were precedents to government bills being piloted in the absence of the ministers concerned, she remarked: “That obviously happened with a different opposition. This opposition is different. It means business.”

Chastened by the experience, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal sounded conciliatory, saying, “We were willing to discuss everything that parliament permits. We want more sittings. We are planning to discuss with the opposition parties the possibility of a six-week winter session.”

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