I.N.D.I.A. could form a shadow cabinet

I.N.D.I.A. could form a shadow cabinet

Contesting the Government in the choice of the new Speaker and subsequent decisions during the first week of the inaugural session raises hopes of a coordinated attempt to hold the NDA government accountable.

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Last Updated : 03 July 2024, 20:41 IST

The Opposition in India is back in Parliament with a spring in its feet. The new-found confidence is backed by the comfort of numbers in the 18th Lok Sabha. There is a gap of about 70 members between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government and the Congress-led Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.).

The Opposition under the I.N.D.I.A. banner has hit the road running since the Parliament session started on June 24, raising the collective profile in the new House. Contesting the Government in the choice of the new Speaker and subsequent decisions during the first week of the inaugural session raises hopes of a coordinated attempt to hold the NDA government accountable.

Unlike the previous Parliament sessions, this time the Opposition is showing greater cohesion and a sense of purpose in both the Houses. Despite competing interests and different priorities dictated by the circumstances in the states/regions where allies are strong, the Opposition is demonstrating greater floor co-ordination.

Now, when the composition of the Lok Sabha has changed and the second, third, fourth, and fifth largest parties in the House with a combined strength of 187 MPs — the Congress (99), the Samajwadi Party (37), the Trinamool Congress (29), and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (22) — occupy the opposition benches, the I.N.D.I.A. bloc could consider forming an informal shadow cabinet in Parliament.

The practice of a shadow cabinet is seen in many parliaments worldwide, with most taking a leaf from the Westminster model, which India also follows. While there is no legal or constitutional sanctity behind such a cabinet, it will help improve work in Parliament on several counts.

A shadow cabinet is an arrangement where Opposition members maintain a sharp focus on specific subjects/ministries. These members would either be knowledgeable in their chosen department(s) in the shadow cabinet, or be keen to acquire domain awareness/knowledge.

Such a focused approach will provide the opposition benches with a pool of talent and examine issues at hand with greater precision and depth. For this, the Opposition can draw upon various resources/domain experts and prepare position papers. Such detailed scrutiny by the Opposition would keep the spotlight on how the policies and programmes of the government are working. This will address the often-cited criticism from the treasury benches that there is no constructive co-operation from the Opposition. Such an informal arrangement would reduce the chances of the Opposition pulling in different directions and will continue with the task of being efficacious in Parliament.

The collective effort will help every party, especially the regional outfits, in the I.N.D.I.A. bloc to work together, take up issues, and with the help of hard facts and figures hold the government accountable for its actions. Otherwise, at times, debates are pock-marked by rhetorical flourishes and repetition of similar points made during a debate. The latter happens when party parliamentary managers ask their members to take part in a debate, and these members have little or no time to prepare.

The Congress as the largest party in the Opposition will get more time when the House allocates time for discussion on Bills, motions, or resolutions. However, with adequate preparation, most members, even new ones, can make points emphatically, to great effect. The approach would also stand the Opposition in good stead when its members are working in the standing committees or the consultative committees. With sharp, focused, and purposive intervention, parliamentary oversight would become more efficacious.

Farming duties among its I.N.D.I.A. members, the Congress under Leaders of Opposition Rahul Gandhi in the Lok Sabha and Mallikarjun Kharge in the Rajya Sabha, can marshal forces effectively in discharging duties the role entails.

Just as the standing committees are fashioned to provide administrative experience to members, the informal shadow cabinet will prepare the new members for parliamentary work outside the regular demands of their respective constituencies.

Senior and experienced members can take the task of keeping focus on the big four ministries on Raisina Hill and draft others with lesser or no experience to groom other members. There are some 70-odd ministries, several departments and organisations under each ministry. Parliament generates a wealth of information which requires careful study.

This appears to be an opportune moment to experiment in this direction. This should take forward the I.N.D.I.A. bloc’s objective of greater cohesion among opposition parties and find common ground on issues that are of mutual interest. The move would also assist the leadership of respective parties to find an honourable space in dealing with issues of regional focus and providing its new members with the opportunity to be an effective parliamentarian.   

(The writer is a New Delhi- based senior journalist)


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