Indian Polity From Confrontational to Consensual Politics?
The invitation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi for exchange of views on important Bills particularly GST, signalled that Modi was shedding the arrogance stemming from absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. It was up to the Congress leadership to reciprocate likewise and not to resort to disruptions and adjournments as in previous sessions of Parliament
The smooth functioning of the winter session of Parliament, despite angry and aggressive onslaughts by Rahul Gandhi in particular, shows welcome signs of Indian politics returning to its democratic roots, wherein discussions and debates are being conducted without uproars and walk-outs. There have been no forced adjournments, resulting in delays in reform and other important Bills.
Will this thaw last?
The dignity of Parliament has been upheld by both, the ruling and opposition parties. The atmosphere in the Houses is after quite some time conducive to smooth functioning.
The invitation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi for exchange of views on important Bills particularly GST, signaled that Modi was shedding the arrogance stemming from absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. It was up to the Congress leadership to reciprocate likewise and not to resort to disruptions and adjournments as in previous sessions of Parliament.
They did reciprocate Modi’s gesture for conduct of the business of the House in an amiable manner. This understanding between Modi and Sonia Gandhi has taken Indian politics back from confrontational to consensual. It must have given a lot of peace to the Parliamentary Minister and whips. But apart from that it has made more seasoned MPs hope that some work could be done. And reforms would not be stalled.
Debates have been positive although Rahul Gandhi continues to be angry and offensive and fiercely critical of anything and everything the Modi government does. Lately he has been making even personal attacks on Narendra Modi, which could destroy the fragile understanding brokered between his mother and the prime minister. In a developing democracy politics is rarely placid, but India was fortunate to have a stable government from the very beginning. During this period respect for parliament was embedded and conventions established.
The bitter exchanges between Jawaharlal Nehru and Ram Manohar Lohia never led to uproars or walk-outs. Since that time and now the decline in the respect for Parliament has led to unprecedented scenes of shouting, coming into the well of the House and walk-outs and worse stalling proceedings by constantly shouting and not sitting down.
Such confrontational attitude, much resorted to in the last few years, did not cause much damage during the UPA rule, because it was just not initiating any new plans or for progress in various sectors, like infra-structure. But Modi came to power on the promise of change, development and undertook to bring acche din. For all this the Government has to be functional and there has to be smooth functioning of Parliament so that necessary Bills et al can be passed.
An old parliamentarian, although happy at the smooth functioning of Parliament warns of Rahul factor. “This Normalcy, essential for democratic processes, is implicit for the country’s progress, economic regeneration and all round development.
“India is at the cusp of transformation to a modern state and is well on the way to attaining its goals to become super economic power and one of the leaders in the world. But this needs national effort.” And this means there has to be an understanding and cooperation between parties on issues and matters that benefit the country.
The invitation for a meeting by Modi to Sonia and Dr. Singh was the first step for seeking cooperation, which they did. But there is some concern about Rahul Gandhi’s cooperation even if it is in national interest. His politics revolves round diatribe against Modi and condemning his policies and him too if possible. He seems to believe that Modi is the only hurdle in his becoming prime minister.
In such circumstances, consensual politics should not be expected from Rahul. Will he come round it. The problem is that there is no one to explain to him that in the long run confrontational politics spawns factionalism and that slowly leads to hatred and then fanaticism. In fact Rahul has been and is encouraged and supported in his anti-Modi mission by intellectuals and the Liberals. This is evident from the coverage the media gives him. The spirit of nationalism can draw him to cooperate with the Government in its efforts to do some good things for the country. So far he has shown no signs of following his mother’s policy of support or opposition from issue to issue. As far as Rahul is considered, Modi is incapable of doing anything positive for the country.
Take for example the Swachh Bharat Scheme. A commendable project that is not only good for creating a sanitised and healthy environment but it can even attract more foreign investors to come to India without worrying about health issues. But it requires cooperation of the people, for which Modi announced many project ambassadors. The names suggested that a lot of thought and research was done for preparing the list. They were all resourceful and well-known like Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Ambani. But a project to clean India with its heat and dust weather conditions needs cooperation of all parties, business houses and most crucially every individual.
But, Rahul has been going round the country joking about it What is wrong if Modi wants to provide toilets for men and women who have been defecating in the open for ages and provide toilets in schools? Bharat is not a personal fiefdom of Modi it belongs to every Indian, and one hopes Rahul considers himself as one.
Does he not want toilets in villages, schools and public places? He could join in the execution and success of the project. He too would get the credit for it. But then it would be so contrary to what he has been tuned for possibly during his 56-day sabbatical, for immediately after his return from some mysterious destination, Rahul has been on the offensive taking pot shots at Modi. Anyway without his cooperation, 98 lakh toilets were built between October 2014 and November 2015.
But nothing matters to Rahul. He has obviously convinced himself that once Modi loses his dominance, he and his Congress Party shall be back and take over from NDA. Boosted by the success in Bihar assembly election and then in local body election results in Gujarat Rahul is unlikely to change his stance towards Modi. His statement for instance that Modi invited Dr Singh and his mother due to public pressure was in fact totally uncalled for.
In fact he has become more strident in his criticism of Modi and his policies. He launched a blistering attack on the Prime Minister saying that he did not want India to prosper on the back of the ‘tears and blood’ of the labour class, which is what the Narendra Modi government was looking to achieve through its policies. He also accused the prime minister of waging a war on the labour class. He did not explain on what basis he reached that conclusion.
He explained to the audience at the 31st plenary session of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) that, “The initiatives launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led NDA government were not benefitting the labour class and was instead trampling their rights.” He did not elucidate on how he reached such a conclusion. He also swore “to continue fight against the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for labourer’s rights.”
He claimed to know Modi’s mind for he said, “Prime Minister Modi thinks that the India labourer is corrupt and can work in fear. He thinks he can break and discipline them. The labourers are scared and are living in fear. Modiji, try and secure their children’s future and then watch how far they take India. The government, which should be neutral, has deserted the labourers and is trying its level best to bring them down on their knees by reducing their basic security and necessities.” He even finds fault with “ Swacch Bharat, Make In India and now Accessible India. God knows what’s coming now after this…When the Prime Minister talks about growth and development, who is it benefitting?… He can make labourers work by force and motivate them with fear.
It is clear that Rahul wants to position himself for the pole position, prime ministership, by claiming to be the saviour of farmers, labour class and the poor. This means he will persist with his confrontational politics.
The thaw which has led to the smooth functioning of Parliament will not, hopefully, be affected by Rahul’s confrontational approach. No other party leader is very impressed by Rahul’s style of leadership. In fact in September veterans and some others in the Congress Party were discussing the possibility of pressing Sonia to take full command or restrain Rahul.
But coordinates have changed after the party’s good showing in Bihar Assembly election, although every political observer knows that the winning of so many seats was due to the fact that most candidates were nominees of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav.
Modi strategists know that Rahul’s going out full stretch in defaming their leader will ricochet in the long run. The defiant refusal by girls of Mount Carmel in Bangalore to endorse Rahul’s statement that Modi’s Swachh Bharat project was a failure, should make him rethink about his confrontational style. The experience at Mount Carmel was just a sample of massive doses that might be served in real politic. Rahul’s aides must also see if the ‘Modi’ has learnt a few lessons from his shameful personal defeat in Bihar. It is learnt that he is appointing local people to help execute his plans.
In India extremism, in any case is disliked. Mrs Indira Gandhi, amma for most in the country, was rejected at the hustings after Emergency even though opposing her was one whose name was mentioned only with a sardonic smile. She had gone to the extreme when she assumed despotic powers. Likewise VP Singh lost power and credibility when he took the extreme step of thrusting mandalisation on a society which was least prepared it.
The situation is such now that while his mother is regarded by the Modi camp as one having pragmatic views, Rahul has been given up as a lost case. For instance, a Rajya Sabha MP revealed that Rahul factor caused headache in the Modi camp regarding the GST Bill, but it felt relieved on learning that Sonia was back. They worried if he would honour whatever was agreed during his mother’s meeting with Modi regarding GST Bill.
The consensual atmosphere is unlikely to be hijacked by Rahul, for as 2019 approaches he might become a loose cannon, after being ditched by even his present parivar of Lalu and Niitish. These adjustments would start to be made, depending on who all are aspirants for the PM gaddi.
Modi showed his so far unknown side of stooping to conquer when he invited Sonia and Dr Singh. Having learnt how beneficial it is, not to be arrogant, and bend down if it helps neutralise one’s rivals, he would be the last person to opt for confrontation.
One can expect a longer phase of consensual polity with Modi having now learnt the art of managing contradictions and Rahul after he gets more disenchanted by the likes of girls from Mount Carmel. The others have neither an all India presence nor enough parliamentarians.
(This article was written before the Delhi High Court spoke on the Herald-case.)
By VIjay Dutt