Session fiasco: Cong, BJP doing disservice to people

Session fiasco: Cong, BJP doing disservice to people

Call it competitive vendetta or the tyranny of the elected or the unelected, the winter session of Parliament concluded on a sour note on Wednesday exposing an unhealthy schism between the two mainstream political parties pitting the Lok Sabha against the Rajya Sabha with Finance Minister Arun Jaitely flagging the questionable assumption of how an “unelected” upper House overrule the mandate of the “elected House”.

After the complete wash out of monsoon session, the winter session too ended without passing any key reforms bills. While the government has managed to push some 14 bills in the lower House, where it has brute majority, and some 12-odd laws in the upper House, the prime minister’s reforms agenda was halted in the Rajya Sabha, where the Congress is in majority.

The much talked about the GST, the real estate and bankruptcy code bills were among the crucial reform legislations that became hostage to the unhealthy “vendetta politics” and confrontation between the Congress and the BJP. What is worse, as the session came to an end, the acrimony between the two have only worsened and the rancour is likely to extend to the budget session threatening yet another logjam squeezing the economy. 

Notwithstanding public opprobrium, neither the BJP nor the Congress appear penitent. In the 2019 general elections, more than the Congress, the BJP’s stakes may be at risk if Parliament deadlock continues throttling the development agenda.  The India Inc is losing patience with the Modi government and foreign investors are wary.

As the ruling party, running Parliament smoothly is primarily the responsibility of the government; this was the constant refrain of BJP managers when party stalled Parliament for long spells during the UPA II regime. While the Congress has stretched the “vendetta” politics too far to stifle legislative agenda, the BJP has only itself to blame for the denouement.

The BJP’s parliamentary affairs ministers have proved to be inept and overweening, at times provoking the Opposition. The relations between the Speaker and the Congress too touched a new low with the former making some disparaging remarks against the party and later regretting and expunging her own comments while the Congress contemplated a motion against her for alleged bias.

Soon after the Houses were adjourned sine die, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu launched a scathing attack on the Congress accusing it of being “intolerant” towards the mandate of the people and paralysing Parliament for having lost the general election, “a clear case of vendetta against the people”, he averred. Within an hour, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad returned the fire saying “I have never seen a parliamentary affairs minister spearheading confrontation”.

Half the problems stem from the fact that BJP managers give precedence to party’s immediate political goals rather than government’s development agenda; it erred in the timing of the ambush. Though it is a court matter, the party could have prevailed upon its leader Subramanian Swamy to delay the National Herald (NH) case in which case he is the petitioner by a few days.

The fragile truce Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked out  with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh after hosting them coffee on the eve of the winter session, evaporated soon after the NH case burst into the open creating bedlam in both Houses. The Congress cried foul and vowed to wreak revenge in freezing GST on the ruse that the government did not agree to amend the law to include some of its suggestions to fine tune the bill. The party got direct support from the Trinamool Congress and tacit backing from allies such as the JD-U and the RJD on the Herald case.

Ill-timed move

Then came the ill-timed move of Arunachal Governor J P Rajkhowa’s alleged bid to dislodge the Congress government in the state leveraging the activism of some rebel MLAs. The Guwahati High Court has since stayed any precipitate action by the governor. Alleging that Rajkhowa was partisan and an agent of the BJP, the Congress disrupted proceedings for a few days. The party got support from many Opposition parties. Even anti-Congress parties such as the BJD and the AIADMK also criticised the move and even sought his removal.

The third ill-timed move was the CBI raid on Aam Admi Party boss and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s office to ostensibly scrutinise documents relating to graft charges against his principal secretary. In the process, this virtually opened a can of worms, inter alia, linking Jaitely to the corruption in the Delhi and District Cricket Association.

It not only exposed chinks in the BJP, punctured its anti-corruption plank against the Congress after the Vyapam scam and Lalitgate  but also united the Opposition on the fear of undermining the federal structure. 

The Congress, stung by the corruption charges against its chief ministers and Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the Herald case, grabbed the DDCA scam and stalled Parliament seeking Jaitely’s resignation on the premise that its erstwhile ministers  – Shashi Tharoor, Ashwani Kumar, Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashok Chavan were forced to quit for lesser offences.

To cap it all, the emergence of DDCA documents linking Jaitely sparked gossip that a section of the BJP leaders were behind the move to besmirch the image of the finance minister.

The rumour mills got boost after BJP’s own MP Kirti Azad, who was proactive in exposing DDCA corruption, raising the issue in the Lok Sabha and BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha going public supporting Azad.

Some in the Opposition wonder why the speaker allowed Azad to flag the issue in the House and why none of the BJP MPs or ministers protested when Azad spoke at length on the DDCA scam tormenting Jaitely.

With just two months left for the Budget session, it is time for the BJP and the Congress to recalibrate their Parliament strategy to make the session productive and preserve the legitimacy of key institution like the Rajya Sabha.

(The writer is a political commentator based in New Delhi)

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