Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s >confabulations last Friday with Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh on the long-pending >Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill , a few hours after he >struck an unusually conciliatory note on the floor of Parliament, signalled a dramatic change of style. Gone was the air of aggression, the taunting tone, and the reminder that his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, >had won an election last year . Mr. Modi’s new mild manner seemed to be an acknowledgement that a majority in the Lok Sabha is not enough, and he needs to build a consensus to give his government’s legislative agenda a chance. A year and a half after he came to power, the Prime Minister has begun to realise that no matter how handsome a mandate the electorate might have given the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, barring the budget — that can get by with support only from the Lok Sabha — all other laws need the backing of both Houses. >Recent setbacks in the Assembly elections have also dimmed the chances of the NDA significantly increasing its numbers in the Rajya Sabha. The government needs to negotiate with the Opposition to get its bills passed. Else, the government risks attracting the phrase ‘policy paralysis’ in its second year, and thereby parallels with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in its eighth. The parallel has cautionary value: once UPA-2 lost the lines of communication with the Opposition, it lost control of its political narrative.
After his Lok Sabha triumph, Mr. Modi had shown disdain for Parliament and the parliamentary process, barely attending the House and refusing to answer tough questions on the floor of the House, when sought. Citing rules, he refused to concede to the Congress the position of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, even as he kept his engagement with the Opposition to the minimum. Indeed, he sought to implement at the Centre a model that had seen him virtually bypassing the Gujarat State Assembly in the years that he was Chief Minister: a look at the records show the Assembly, as in most other States, barely functioned; and whatever legislation had to be passed was done with minimal debate. That is clearly not possible in Delhi, where the levels of scrutiny — and resistance — are much higher. More important, a Central government must reckon with the Rajya Sabha, and courtesies need to be extended in one House to be reciprocated in the other. Now, with the economic reforms stuck, and the electorate having spoken twice this year overwhelmingly against the BJP, first in Delhi and more recently in Bihar, the Prime Minister appears to have finally read the writing on the wall. Mr. Modi made a good beginning on Friday, but he needs to continue in the same way, engaging the Opposition even as he sends out a message of inclusion, tolerance and plurality by checking the hotheads in his party, if he wishes to make a success of the rest of his tenure.