Why Congress believes it turned the winter session to its advantage

Business Standard, December 25, 2015

On Wednesday, the last day of the winter session, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu lambasted the Congress for ?paralysing? Parliament on a ?day-to-day basis?. ?It seems they (Congress) are intolerant towards the mandate of the people in the last Lok Sabha elections,? he said.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has gone all out to project the Congress as a disruptive force that wants to stall the country?s economic progress, the latter believes it has succeeded in ?exposing? the Narendra Modi-led government?s ?political vendetta?. The Sonia Gandhi-led party also thinks it has been able to stonewall the BJP government?s reforms agenda, despite having a modest bench strength of 44 members.

While India Inc and the Centre hit out at the Congress for being a roadblock to the goods and services tax (GST) Constitutional amendment Bill, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi used every opportunity to portray the party was fighting to protect the common man?s interest. According to the Congress, there should be a cap on GST rates so that the rates can?t be increased arbitrarily. The party also kept claiming it?s ?the original architect of the GST?.

A combative Congress had initially started the session hitting out at the Modi government on the ?intolerance? issue and managed to bring other Opposition parties on board in taking on the Centre. Thereafter, it screamed ?political vendetta? when Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were issued court summons in the National Herald case. However, the party did a mid-course correction after it realised the message going out was that the Congress was stalling Parliament to protect the Gandhis.

The ?political vendetta? card was soon successfully used to rally the entire Opposition together to protest against the overthrowing of the elected Congress chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh by the state?s governor. The Congress managed to disrupt one full week?s business in the Rajya Sabha where it has majority. Not a single Question Hour or Bill was transacted throughout that period and the Congress got the backing of the Opposition on what was perceived as ?an attack on the federal structure?.

The winter session was beneficial to the Congress in many ways. For one, it belied the prophecy of political pundits that the Congress would split after its humiliating defeat in the 2014 elections. It also negated the notion that the Gandhis were losing their grip on the party. After the Grand Alliance victory in the Bihar Assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi consolidated his place and hopes to take on the mantle of party president. The winter session saw a more vocal and aggressive Rahul taking on the Centre and Modi.

The party also successfully raked up the issue of Dalit atrocities. It protested with the Bahujan Samaj Party against Union minister V K Singh in the Rajya Sabha on his alleged derogatory remarks on Dalits.

By the end of the winter session, the Congress believes it has managed to ?expose the double standards? of the BJP regarding corruption. Jumping on to the bandwagon of the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA) scam raised by BJP member Kirti Azad (who has now been suspended from the party) and the Aam Aadmi Party, the Congress demanded the resignation of finance minister Arun Jaitley.

?Whether we manage to make Jaitley resign or not, is not the moot issue. What we have succeeded in doing is bursting the balloon that only the United Progressive Alliance ministers who were corrupt and that the BJP Cabinet is taint-free. A tall leader like Jaitley is now ?perceived? to be tainted and the BJP?s action against Azad has only emboldened our case,? said a senior Congress leader and strategist.

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