Inside Parliament | Analysis: BJP dominates the Monsoon Session

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being garlanded at BJP Parliamentary Party meeting in Parliament premises on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

By bookending the last monsoon session of the 16th Lok Sabha with two victories, the BJP’s floor managers did a creditable job of steering the ruling coalition through what might otherwise have been a difficult 17 sittings. The government remained focused on its business, ensuring the passage of as many as 20 Bills, giving the Opposition little play.

The ruling dispensation’s two wins, one each in the two Houses — defeating the Opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha near the start of the session, and ensuring the victory of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate for the post of Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha a day before Parliament adjourned sine die — sent out a powerful signal: this was a government in control of its destiny, that had the capacity to keep its allies on board, regardless of the public statements many of their leaders had made against the ruling party.

Opposition taken totally by surprise in Rajya Sabha

If the defeat of the no-confidence motion was a foregone conclusion, given that the NDA has an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, the Opposition was taken totally by surprise in the Rajya Sabha. From the start of the session, BJP spokespersons informally conveyed that the government was in no hurry to fill the post of the Rajya Sabha’s Deputy Chairperson as it was unsure of its numbers. The Opposition, lulled into complacency, was therefore, caught unprepared when the government announced the election — after it had already found out that it would be able to get its candidate through — in the closing week of the session.

The BJP, having assessed that it would be harder to get a nominee from its own party through than someone from a regional ally did just that, pushing forward the candidature of Harivansh Narayan Singh of the Janata Dal (United).

For, though the Biju Janata Dal, the Shiv Sena and the Telengana Rashtra Samithi had all abstained from voting during the no-confidence motion to demonstrate their equi-distance from the BJP and the Congress, in the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson election, these three parties found no difficulty in voting for another regional party, the JD(U).

The Congress, on the other hand, failed to persuade any of its allies to contest the election and was forced to put up its own candidate. At best, the Congress could have ensured — had it taken the trouble — to see that the gap was less than it eventually was.

The only plus for the Opposition was that it helped them identify better which parties can be relied on to be part of the face-off against the BJP in 2019.

In the 80 MP-strong Uttar Pradesh, for instance, the Opposition alliance remained intact: the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), crucial to winning that State, both voted for Congress candidate B.K. Hariprasad. It was a similar story from Bihar, a State that has 40 Lok Sabha seats: the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MPs too voted for the Opposition candidate.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Left parties and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) too backed the Congress nominee. A big gain was that the six MPs of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which recently quit the NDA, actually voted with the Opposition, consistent with its position as one of the chief sponsors of the recent no-confidence motion against the Modi government.

If the BJP emerged from the session looking stronger, it also managed to clear two Bills that it will sell as indicative of its commitment to social justice: on August 1, it moved an amendment to The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, to nullify the Supreme Court ruling of March 20 that was seen by Dalits and tribal organisations as diluting the law. The government also ensured the passage of a Bill that grants constitutional status to the National Commission for the Backward Classes (NCBC) last week, bringing it on a par with similar commissions for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), a long- standing demand of the Other Backward Castes, and, therefore, seen as a potential vote-catcher for the BJP.

Triple Talaq Bill

If these two Bills had a smooth passage, thanks to universal support in Parliament, the government waited for the last day to bring the controversial Triple Talaq Bill, after the Union Cabinet approved the provision of bail in it, allowed reconciliation proceedings, besides allowing only a wife, her blood relatives or those in the family she has married into to file a police complaint against a man. However, the Cabinet wants the ‘offence’ of instant triple 'talaq' to remain a non-bailable one when a man is arrested; he can, however, apply for bail before the trial, but only after the magistrate hears the wife. Pronouncement of 'talaq' in one go will attract a jail term of three years for the husband.

The Opposition was not satisfied with the changes and continued to demand that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee; so the government has deferred the Bill to the next session.

It also became clear that the government had waited till the end of the session to bring the Bill as it is not that interested in its passage: it only wanted to make a political point that while it was interested in the welfare of Muslim women, the Opposition was not. “This suits us,” a senior Minister said.

NRIs can vote through proxy

If much of the session was devoted to business that is helping to set the stage for the next general elections for the BJP, The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill of 2017, was passed: it will allow non-resident Indians (NRIs) to emerge as a decisive force in the country’s electoral politics on their own terms, as they will be permitted to vote through proxy. Given the BJP’s standing among the Indian diaspora, this should come in handy during elections.

Indeed, the BJP dominated the session: it was only during the no-confidence motion that the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi briefly ensured that the spotlight was on him. But he lost the momentum after that. The unequivocal message he had sent out that day — that love and tolerance, not hatred and lynchings, was the way forward for India, indeed, that there was no substitute for the Gandhian ideals of truth and non-violence — was not followed up. Neither was the party able to put the government on the mat on the Rafale issue, barring some sporadic attempts in the House and a protest in front of Gandhi’s statue on the Parliament House premises.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 4:44:53 AM |

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