Political clouds loom over monsoon session

Political clouds loom over monsoon session

Political clouds loom over monsoon session
After a high-voltage budget session which saw a merger of the railway and general budgets and th passage of seminal tax laws like the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the monsoon session beginning on Monday and concluding on August 11, may appear insignificant in the absence of a heavy legislative agenda.

But it is a crucial test for the Opposition’s unity at a time the ruling dispensation is fine-tuning its strategy to torpedo the proposed ‘grand alliance’ at the national level even as the anti-BJP coalition in Bihar comprising JD(U), RJD and the Congress is unravelling.  

Coinciding with the monsoon session is the end of the tenures of incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari and election of their successors on July 17 and August 5, respectively. The BJP nominees are expected to win both the high constitutional posts with overwhelming majority, dealing a psychological blow to the Opposition.

The fact that for first time since independence, a politician from the RSS stable is being elected President, and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is breaking ranks to support him, will indubitably add to the BJP’s swagger heightening its propensity for confrontation with the Opposition.

Nevertheless, unfazed by the BJP’s muscular politics, an 18-party conglomeration has since coalesced and put up Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi as its vice presidential candidate, a token fight nevertheless. On the flip-side, government’s proactive role in selectively pursuing the Opposition’s corruption cases has apparently brought all the victims together, swelling the index of Opposition unity. Yet, it remains to be seen if this new found camaraderie will sustain and coagulate into a national coalition in the next two years.

The Opposition has a number of issues in its arsenal to pin down the government, but it still lacks narrative to counter Modi. Though the growing incidents of lynching of persons suspected to be carrying beef by cow vigilantes is a matter of grave concern, a section of Congress strategists is for giving priority to economic issues such as farm distress (the high point being the killing of six Madhya Pradesh farmers in a police firing last month) and the suicide of indebted cultivators in thousands, “hasty and flawed” GST, “ill-effects” of demonetisation, job loss and plummeting GDP.

The reason being, they fear that the BJP may use acrimony over issues like lynching to “distort” the discourse and keep the communal narrative alive to suit its political interests. Some civil society groups have proposed that the government pass a law in Parliament to stop lynching.

However, treading cautiously not to fall into BJP’s “cultural nationalism” trap, the Congress is expected to adopt a calibrated approach to sectarian challenges while keeping the main focus on economy, foreign policy and strategic issues.

As regards demonetisation, the government has not come up with convincing answers as to why, even eight months after the currency reform, the RBI has not been able to inform Parliament about the quantum of “black money” received by the banks. Apparently, demonetisation has achieved none of its stated objectives like choking terror funding, Maoist violence or eliminating counterfeit currency.

The RBI’s recent statement that it still is counting the demonetised notes has only evoked derisive comments from the Opposition leaders with some asking if the banks had accepted currency from depositors without counting them?

Critical questions

Though the government managed to douse some Opposition fire on Chinese incursions on the border, through an all-party session eve meeting, some tough questions on the spat with China and Pakistan are expected to be raised. Turmoil in J&K and “intelligence and security lapses” leading to the killing of Amarnath pilgrims would also come up for discussion.

Questions being asked are: why the bus was allowed to proceed even after 7.30 pm and why the six checkposts en route did not raise any objection, and how a bus from Gujarat was targeted?

The BJP’s “vendetta politics” is another issue that has found traction among the Opposition leaders. The saffron party is expected to use “anti-corruption” plank to tar its opponents and blunt their attack.

The fact that leaders like Lalu Prasad, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, some Trinamool Congress ministers, several Congress leaders, YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy, AIADMK factional leaders and NCP leaders are under the lens of investigating agencies, will be electoral fodder for the BJP, at least till the 2019 elections.

And much to the BJP’s delight, Nitish Kumar is also parroting the corruption narrative; and by design or coincidence, the CBI raid on Lalu Prasad’s progeny has provided the JD(U) chief with an opportunity to buttress his “clean” image as he demands the resignation of Lalu’s son and ‘tainted’ Deputy CM Tejashwi, a suggestion rejected by the Lalu clan. 

Knowing fully well that Lalu is an accused in graft charges, Nitish had joined hands with him and the Congress in 2015 to stop “communal” forces from capturing power in Bihar and subsequently went to the ext­ent of calling for an “RSS-free” India, hoping that he would be projected the Opposition’s PM candidate, but the Congress ruled it out.

Nitish has convened a party conclave next weekend to decide the future course of action. He may have to take a call as to what is the larger issue – his so called

“Mr Clean image,” “corruption” or “communalism.” The monsoon session may offer some hints.

While a slew of legislations — electoral bonds, labour reforms, banking regulation amendment to deal with non-performing assets, bankruptcy bill and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (amendment) etc — are ready for passage, questions are being asked as to why the government is delaying operationalisation of key anti-graft measures such as the Lokpal and Whistleblowers Protection Act, both passed by the Lok Sabha way back in 2014.

As both Modi and Nitish have managed to acquire the aura of anti-graft crusaders in the political firmament, people expect them to live by their convictions. Will Nitish have the audacity to sack Tejashwi even at the cost of his own chair without compromising on communalism and corruption? And will Modi appoint a Lokpal with the PMO under its ambit?

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