OPINION

A storm to ride out

Opposition parties will be opposition parties even if they had been in power until very recently. So on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party must be finding the attitude of the principal opposition party, the Congress, strangely discomfiting. While the Congress seems bent on disrupting the session over issues such as corruption charges against Ministers and Chief Ministers, the BJP is without the moral authority to demand a reasoned, regulated debate. After all, the strategy of the Congress and other opposition parties is the same one that the BJP had adopted against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. With two important pieces of legislation at stake, on land acquisition and the goods and services tax, the Narendra Modi government cannot afford to let the session descend into din and noise. The opposition wants to strengthen popular perceptions of wrongdoing and of an ineffectual government. But in the absence of an informed debate in Parliament, the government will be unable to advance its legislative agenda. Disruption works better for the opposition than for the government. The louder the noise the better it is for the opposition parties: unfortunately, commotion and confusion in Parliament seem to get them better media mileage.

Both the Lalit Modi saga and the Vyapam scam have put the BJP on the back foot. Although the leaders most under pressure are the BJP Chief Ministers in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, any mis-step will take a toll on the image of Prime Minister Modi and his government. Mr. Modi was able to generate a pan-India appeal ahead of the 2014 general election; this very appeal is now under stress, resulting in State-level scams tarring the BJP’s national image. As the undisputed leader of the BJP, Mr. Modi will be expected to discipline erring Union Ministers and Chief Ministers. Unlike his predecessor Manmohan Singh, who was seen as politically weak and therefore ineffectual, Mr. Modi will have no excuse for inaction. To not act in the face of grave allegations would be seen not merely as a sign of political weakness, but as a sign of complicity. The BJP’s strategy seems to be to back its Chief Ministers fully. But, despite its absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, the party would need the moral support of its allies to deflect Opposition attacks. The Shiv Sena would not be easy to placate. If the stand-off persists, it is the government that will have to force a resolution. But the opposition needs to do more than make some noise if it sincerely believes that the government is in the wrong. Informed discussion and smooth conduct of parliamentary proceedings will go a long way in clarifying the details of the murky affairs.

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