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Picking the wrong Issues

Following the May 2009 elections, which brought in a second term for the UPA administration, some analysts believed that working relations between the Congress Party and the BJP opposition, would finally turn more cordial. That would, in the least, facilitate better floor-coordination for important legislation and, national interests would over-ride petty political bickering. The previous term of Manmohan Singh’s government are well remembered for perpetual squabbling. The subsequent election campaign too involved frequent run-ins between Mr Singh and BJP leader LK Advani. Unhappily, things have not improved, and this time the blame would appear to lie largely on the BJP’s parliamentary leadership.

The BJP walk-out during the budget presentation over a fuel price hike was in shallow form. It seemed odd that even experienced lawmakers, who have unhindered access to information on government finances, would seek to gain inane political mileage over an issue of national interest. Whilst no one really likes to pay more for petrol, the government is not spoilt for choice. Ballooning fiscal imbalances are unsustainable and could undermine a hesitant recovery. Had they been in power, the BJP would probably have done the same thing. More recently, the BJP accused the Prime Minister of keeping parliament in the dark about secret parleys with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. This is an incredibly unusual charge as they must know that back-door channels are clearly a valuable medium for engagement between conflicting positions. The Prime Minister and his government are hardly in a situation to sign a clandestine deal and subsequently present it as fait accompli to parliament. Eventually, if progress is achieved and the time is right, parliament is bound to be informed and a political consensus arrived at. The BJP too may have, during their term in office, engaged in discussions with various trouble makers and kept Parliament unaware. Dialogue on sensitive issues that is open to public scrutiny cannot make progress.

The BJP’s parliamentary leadership appears to be groping. Instead of picking real issues to challenge government (such as delivery of services; tardy execution of the NREGS; delays in infrastructure projects; cost over-runs on government sponsored schemes; etc) their energies are being wasted on pointless things in the hope of gaining political mileage. On the contrary, they even seem to be alienating their once strong middle-class constituency. Beginning with the expulsion of Jaswant Singh on charges as futile as free expression, their actions progressively reflect a desperate entity unable to come to terms with its dwindling popularity. The party’s parliamentary leadership has not only undermined the little that remains of its declining stock, but also performed a disservice to the nation by failing in its duty of providing political challenge on pertinent issues. Amusingly, the very people who had relentlessly accused Congress Party General Secretary, Rahul Gandhi, of lacking in political maturity are setting benchmarks in what constitutes imprudence. Mr Gandhi on the other hand, comes across as sincere. Moreover, his political instincts have evolved, giving his party the strength to take on challenges. He is gradually being recognised as Prime Minister substance – the BJP on the other hand, has no one acceptable on the national stage, that can fit this bill. In the company of bumbling regional politicians, seeking to make mountains out of trivial mounds, the Leader of the Opposition only undermines the credibility of a constitutional office.

Constructive opposition in our form of parliamentary democracy is as essential as effective government. This involves, supporting a consensus on strategic and economic issues, and challenging the administration where it has genuinely failed. If the BJP really applied their minds they would find no shortages on this score. Everyone expected them to serve this purpose. Perhaps there is hope yet as their new President Nitin Gadkari settles into Delhi and begins to exert his influence on parliamentary matters. But for now, the functioning of the opposition – or perhaps the lack of it – leaves the nation at a loss.


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