Does the Congress party have an end game in its strategy to obstruct the functioning of Parliament? Does it intend to disrupt or boycott Parliament until 2019? These are important questions, not only for the future of the Congress, but also for the health of India’s parliamentary democracy.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to interview then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for India Today just before he moved to Rashtrapati Bhawan. Few contemporary politicians have the depth of understanding about the Constitution and parliamentary democracy that Pranab Da has. I recall he said that the role of the opposition was to expose, oppose and (eventually) depose the government. He said that the majority had the mandate to rule and that the minority had the mandate to oppose, but nobody had the mandate to obstruct. And if these basic rules of the game were not adhered to the fine balance that defines a functioning Parliamentary system would be imperilled.
The Congress should pay heed to the wisdom of the man who is now India’s President. By upping the ante against Narendra Modi’s government so early in its tenure and over a relatively minor transgression by a Union minister, the party risks being blamed for now allowing Prime Minister Modi to execute his decisive mandate. Can 44 MPs obstruct (and not just oppose) the will of 282 MPs? If it is the Congress’ case that the Modi government has failed to deliver its promises, what is the wisdom in sharing the burden of failure by disrupting Parliament in full public view?
Of course, Congress can well argue that it was the BJP that used the tactic of obstruction through the tenure of UPA 2 and all that they doing are returning the favour/following the precedent. Let’s be clear. What the BJP did (in terms of blocking the functioning of Parliament) during UPA 2 was unedifying. In fact, it has returned to haunt the BJP even when it has won a handsome majority in government.
That said, Congress must ask itself: did the BJP win in 2014 because the people of India were impressed by its obstruction of Parliament? The answer is no. The BJP’s rise in the opinion polls began once a certain Narendra Modi emerged as the real leader of the opposition. As a serving Chief Minister, Modi was not an MP and not party to the tactics his party men and women were deploying in New Delhi. Instead, Modi did what a good opposition is supposed to do. He exposed the Congress party’s misgovernance through brilliant oratory and a slick campaign. He opposed what the Congress stood for — the promise of big government was countered with minimum government and maximum governance, the economics of dole was countered with an economics of aspiration and job creation. And then, when the time came, he deposed the Congress and became Prime Minister.
BJP’s obstruction of Parliament played a limited role. In any case, the UPA 2 government was paralysed in its functioning by contradictions within. On key issues, like FDI in retail, the Congress had failed to win the support of the majority by failing to persuade members of its own coalition. UPA’s big-ticket corruption would have spilled out into full public view without any need to disrupt Parliament.
What Congress needs is to find its Narendra Modi who can expose and oppose the government, without being seen as unnecessarily obstructive to the mandate of the ruling dispensation. That is the only way the grand old party can become a serious contender in 2019. Rahul Gandhi may have found his voice at last, but he still doesn’t have the gravitas to expose or the ideas to oppose Prime Minister Modi’s government. Perhaps that is why he is choosing the path of obstruction. That alone will not work. It’s time he drove up Raisina Hill for a chat.