Stasis in the House

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The Hindu, August 14, 2015

The monsoon session of Parliament ended predictably, with virtually no work done barring some essential financial business and an acrimonious debate in the Lok Sabha on the ?Lalitgate? issue. Neither the Land Acquisition Bill nor the Goods and Services Tax Bill ? seen as being critical to taking the Narendra Modi government?s reforms agenda forward ? could be enacted. The Congress-led Opposition made the resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and the Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan respectively, a precondition to allowing Parliament to function. A government that came to power promising neither to make money nor allow its members to do so (?na khayenge, na khaane denge?) failed to respond in a credible manner to serious allegations of conflict of interest, impropriety and corruption against some of its Ministers. It made virtually no attempt to break the impasse; the efforts were limited to stressing that its absolute majority in the last Lok Sabha entitled it to have its way. It also dredged up scandals from the Congress?s past and accused that party of ?negativism? and of an ?obstructionist attitude? to the GST Bill. And through all this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained silent.

Mr. Modi?s image as the Great Communicator, acquired as Chief Minister of Gujarat and burnished during last year?s campaign for the general election, was expected to be an asset when he became Prime Minister. Unlike during his many overseas visits, this attribute was not on display in Parliament this time. Even when Lalitgate was finally discussed, he left it to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to respond. The monsoon session cried out for a statesman-like intervention, especially after the government?s parliamentary managers failed to break the deadlock. Instead, Mr. Modi chose to copy his predecessor, who he had mocked as Maun-mohan Singh, playing on the word for ?silent?. Indeed, over the past year Mr. Modi has rarely spoken in Parliament; even when he did, he never attempted to reach out. If the Opposition, particularly the Congress, can be faulted for choosing disruption over debate, notably it held its fire for the first couple of sessions. The party began to cry foul from the winter session of 2014 when it became evident that the Prime Minister had no time for Parliament. If during the Budget session Parliament cleared a large number of Bills, the credit must go as much to the Opposition as to the government. With this session declared a washout, it is time Mr. Modi took his official position as Leader of the Lok Sabha more seriously. He should perhaps also study how the Bharatiya Janata Party?s first Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajapyee, conducted himself in Parliament and government, using both his personality and charm to reach out and win the cooperation and admiration of the Opposition to a great extent.

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