House on Fire
It looks, at least as of now, the Winter Session of Parliament is going to be another wash-out. Ominous indications are available on day one. As the session took off this morning, with Home Minister Rajnath Singh taking the floor in Lok Sabha, initiating a two-day debate on 'Commitment to Constitution' as part of B R Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary celebrations, he had never thought his good words in appreciation of the creator of Constitution would spark furor. Rajnath recalled the exemplary roles played by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Ambedkar, one unifying the country and the other bonding it. He took care also to mention Jawaharlal Nehru for his contribution as the first Prime Minister. But the problem arose when Rajnath recalled that despite the insults and discrimination Ambedkar had to suffer as a Dalit, he never thought of leaving the country. The Opposition leaders, especially the Congress, took it as a provocative jibe on Aamir Khan, who is now facing large-scale protests for his comments on "intolerance."
Not only that, the Home Minister's bid to chastise those who attempted to present Ambedkar as a Dalit leader, apparently left the Congress leadership red-faced. "I don't think Dr Ambedkar should be restricted to such a narrow purview," said Rajnath as Congress president Sonia Gandhi looked vexed and perturbed, sending vibes to her colleagues sitting by her side that the saffron party was trying to usurp Ambedkar's legacy. Rajnath also attacked the Congress on "secularism" which, he said, was the "most misused" term in the country that had led to tensions. Mrs Gandhi later retorted that the incidents of the past few months show that the govt is "against all secularist traditions and the principles enshrined in the Constitution." Thus, acrimony seems to have run so high now that it looks certain the Opposition will raise the "intolerance" and other controversial issues to corner the govt.
It seems Pime Minister Narendra Modi sounding a conciliatory note, expressing the hope that "we all MPs will leave no stone unturned to meet the expectations of the people," has had no tangible effect on the Opposition. His pleading that "our Constitution presented a ray of HOPE (H for Harmony, O for opportunity, P for people's participation and E for equality)" have proved words of an ineffectual angel. Debates and discussions, he emphasized, constituted the soul of Parliament. Analysts had seen the PM's remarks as his govt's readiness to accommodate the Opposition's concerns on various controversial issues. However, it can scantily be hoped now that law-makers will give bad times a miss and rise to the occasion, doing some serious business this time around, forgetting the bitterness of the Monsoon Session that saw their irresponsibly woven nexus shamelessly hijacking the system, hurling choicest abuses and fighting pitched battles, wasting in the process, vast national resources.
Those were the noxious times. All that happened as the people watched in awe the ugly scenes telecast from the august Houses of Parliament. The Opposition, led by Congress, held Parliament to ransom indefinitely through protests, mudslinging and bitter exchanges on issues of little import. Inactivity marked the response of parliamentarians on core national issues, as the ruling NDA too, on its part, refused to go conciliatory and adopted the path of confrontation. Forgetting those disgraceful happenings, it is still hoped this session will be a little productive, even if predictably, it is bound to be extremely stormy.
Following NDA's debacle in Bihar, an emboldened RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav who, aided by JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar and Rahul Gandhi, drove the grand alliance to an unexpected win, has already threatened to settle scores with the Modi govt in Parliament. Besides, the rest of the Opposition is already ranged against the ruling alliance on issues, such as "intolerance", Dadri lynching, Hindutva forces, prices of eatables, "stand still" economy, worsening relations with Pakistan, etc, that may be intensely debated by MPs, eating away most of the session's time. When tempers run high in Parliament, who will bother about doing business on the pending key Bills that have been staring into the law-makers' eyes since the last session ?
PM's promised economic reforms will not take off unless the right laws to facilitate them are in place. Opposition, however, clearly is not reconciled to the Modi govt taking credit for any major deliveries that may lift its low spirits, before it faces next round of elections in several states in the next two years. Painfully for the govt, the Land Ordinance was forced to lapse, but the Goods and Services Bill needs to be taken up with speed. There are eight pending Bills in Lok Sabha and 11 in Rajya Sabha. Most important ones are GST and Land Bills, but the latter is pending before a Joint Committee of Parliament. Also, the priority is to take up the three other ordinance-related bills, namely the Negotiable Instruments Bill, dealing with cheque bounce cases, the Commercial Divisions of High Courts Bill and the measure converting the Arbitration and Conciliation Ordinance into an Act for the purpose of achieving speedy settlement of disputes via arbitration
The Nitish-Lalu brigade may be in high spirits, but their Bihar poll tail-partner, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress that mainly was instrumental in washing out the last session, has been shown how his pointless, insidious onslaughts on some well-meaning initiatives of the Modi govt are going to recoil on him and his comrade-in-arms. He faced his lifetime's embarrassment from forward-looking college students in Bengaluru yesterday. This 'most eligible bachelor' of India was stumped at the Mt Carmel College with young girls vociferously rejecting his views on Modi's "Swachh Bharat" campaign. Rahul had asked them if the PM's campaign was working. He was frozen when the girls insisted that "it has been a big success." The embarrassed Amethi MP quickly countered : "You may see so, but I don't". The students also endorsed Modi's "Make in India" campaign, putting the Congress vice-president on the back foot. He was left speechless.
After the Bengaluru snub, it is hoped, Rahul Gandhi and his mom go to Parliament with some sense of responsibility. Time for him and other Opposition leaders to think of priorities focused on national development, growth and people's welfare. Whatever "intolerance" or "too much tolerance" are seen in the current Indian narrative will slowly disappear. But the time for clinching the core issues must now take a serious call. That "core" can't be sacrificed in the din of frivolous cries of discontent that the MPs are irrepressibly used to. All issues can be discussed threadbare to reinstall harmony towards some respectable Parliament functioning. It must be clear now that playing self-centric, petty politics will only invite abhorrence, sharp criticism and retributive action from the masses. The Bihar verdict may just be a momentary thriller for some and a little dampening fixation for others, but real merit of leaders on both sides of the divide is certainly on litmus test now!