Preaching consensus, provoking confrontation

There is no evidence that the Prime Minister has come to terms with the electoral outcome or has reflected on the message sent to him by voters, writes Sonia Gandhi

Updated - June 29, 2024 08:58 am IST

Published - June 28, 2024 02:44 pm IST

Indian Youth Congress members protest against the alleged rigging of the NEET-UG examination, at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi on June 27, 2024.

Indian Youth Congress members protest against the alleged rigging of the NEET-UG examination, at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi on June 27, 2024. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

On June 4, 2024, the verdict of our country’s electorate was delivered clearly and resoundingly. It signalled a personal, political, and moral defeat for a Prime Minister who had awarded himself a divine status during the campaign. The verdict negated not only such pretensions, but it was also an unequivocal rejection of the politics of divisiveness, discord and hatred, a repudiation of both the substance and style of governance of Mr. Narendra Modi.

The fading of accommodation

Yet, the Prime Minister continues as if nothing has changed. He preaches the value of consensus but continues to value confrontation. There is not the slightest evidence that he has come to terms with the electoral outcome, or understood the verdict and has reflected on the message sent to him by millions of voters. The first few days of the 18th Lok Sabha have sadly been far from encouraging. Any hope that we might see a changed attitude has been dashed. Any hope that a new spirit of mutual respect and accommodation, let alone camaraderie would be fostered, has been belied.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi shake hands at Parliament House in New Delhi on June 26, 2024.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi shake hands at Parliament House in New Delhi on June 26, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

I would like to remind readers what the INDIA bloc parties told the Prime Minister when his emissaries sought unanimity for the post of Speaker. The response was simple and straightforward: we said that we would support the government — but in keeping with convention and tradition, it was only fair and to be expected that the post of Deputy Speaker would be given to a member from the ranks of the Opposition. This perfectly reasonable request was found unacceptable by a regime that, it bears recall, had not filled the Constitutional position of Deputy Speaker in the 17th Lok Sabha.

And then, the Emergency was dredged up by the Prime Minister and his party – astonishingly, even by the Speaker whose position is incompatible with any public political stance other than one of strict impartiality. This attempt to divert attention away from the assault on the Constitution, on its foundational principles and values, on the institutions it has created and empowered, does not augur well for the smooth functioning of Parliament.

It is a fact of history that in March 1977 the people of our country gave a categorical verdict on the Emergency, which was accepted unhesitatingly and unequivocally. That less than three years later the party that was humbled in March 1977 was returned to power, with a majority never achieved by Mr. Modi and his party, is also very much part of that history.

Issues that need extensive debate

We need to look ahead. The bizarre and unprecedented suspension of 146 Members of Parliament, who were legitimately demanding a discussion on a deplorable breach of Parliament’s security, was clearly a way of ensuring that three far-reaching criminal justice laws could be passed without any discussion. Several legal experts and many others have expressed grave concerns about these laws. Should these laws not be kept in abeyance till they have undergone fuller Parliamentary scrutiny in keeping with accepted parliamentary practice and especially since the electoral verdict of 2024? Similarly, amendments to forest conservation and biological diversity protection forest laws were pushed through last year when there was uproar and chaos in Parliament. An ecological and humanitarian disaster is awaiting us as the Great Nicobar project is pushed through. Should they also not be revisited to give meaning to the Prime Minister’s stated desire for consensus and for passage of laws after full debate and discussion?

On the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) scandal that has wreaked havoc on the lives of lakhs of our youth, the immediate response of the Education Minister was to deny the magnitude of what has happened. The Prime Minister who does his ‘Pariksha pe Charcha’ has been conspicuously silent on the leaks that have devastated so many families across the country. The inevitable ‘high power committees’ have been constituted but the real issue is how the professionalism of educational institutions such as the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the University Grants Commission and universities themselves have been so deeply damaged in the last 10 years.

Meanwhile, the campaign of violence and intimidation against India’s minorities has once again intensified. In the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled States, bulldozers are again demolishing the homes of minorities based on mere allegations, violating due process, and inflicting collective punishment. None of this is surprising given the communal invective and blatant falsehoods that the Prime Minister inflicted on the people during the election campaign. He provocatively escalated the rhetoric out of fear that the election was slipping away from him, showing complete disregard for the dignity and maryada of his position.

In February 2022, the BJP and its allies got a convincing majority in the assembly elections in Manipur. Yet, within 15 months Manipur began to burn—or should it be said was allowed to begin to burn. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands dislocated. Social harmony in this most sensitive state has been shattered. Yet, the Prime Minister has not found either the time or the inclination to visit the State nor to meet with its political leaders. It is no wonder that his party has lost both the Lok Sabha seats there, but this does not seem to have had any impact on his most insensitive handling of the crisis that has engulfed Manipur’s variegated society.

The Prime Minister diminished himself by the campaign he ran for over forty days. His words did untold damage to our social fabric and to the dignity of the office he is privileged to hold. It is for him to reflect and introspect and recognise that in rejecting his call for 400-plus parliamentary seats, crores of our people – to whom he promises sabka saath, sabka vikas — sent a powerful message, that they had had enough.

The Opposition will reflect India’s voice

The INDIA bloc parties have made it clear that they do not seek a confrontationist attitude. The Leader of the Opposition Rahul Gandhi has offered cooperation. The leaders of the constituents of the alliance have made clear that they are looking to being productive in Parliament and to impartiality in the conduct of its proceedings. It is our hope that the Prime Minister and his government will respond positively. The initial evidence does not augur well, but we in the Opposition are committed to restoring balance and productivity in Parliament, to ensure that the voice of the millions who have sent us there as their representatives is heard and their concerns are raised and addressed. We live in hope that the Treasury benches will step forward so that we can fulfil our democratic duties.

Sonia Gandhi, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), is Chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party

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