External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj seems to have implicated herself by making a statement in the Lok Sabha that she had indeed verbally communicated to the British authorities that if they chose “to give travel documents to Lalit Modi, that will not spoil our bilateral relations”. Sushma’s disclosure to Parliament has in fact raised an important question of propriety, which the opposition has been raising all along and which has led to disruption of Parliament proceedings ever since the monsoon session started more than three weeks ago. If she was keen to help a cancer patient (Lalit’s wife Meenal), she should have initiated the process of communication with the British authorities through a formal process and not merely spoken to the British high commissioner and whoever else by keeping her own ministry and its officials in dark all along.
Sushma’s weak self defence has put the BJP in a bigger problem and it is difficult to imagine how the party’s senior leaders would be able to placate the angry opposition and bring it back to the Lok Sabha, given that their main demand has been her resignation. The minister’s emotionally charged speech described by Sonia Gandhi as “theatrics” did not get wide endorsement from many of her own party colleagues, who found her actions difficult to defend.
Sushma, while making a statement with most of the opposition members absent, dramatically asked what Sonia Gandhi would have done had she been in her place, to which the Congress president subsequently said that she would have acted as per rules and not helped Modi if it amounted to infringement of law in any manner.
Rahul Gandhi as well attacked Sushma and claimed that hers was a question of quid pro quo as her husband and daughter had received money from Lalit Modi’s firm for being his lawyers. Many members also wanted to know off the record how many other patients suffering from cancer getting treatment abroad had been helped by the minister by getting fast track facilitation for obtaining visas and other travel documents. Or such a consideration was reserved only for Modi. It is obvious that in her over enthusiasm to clarify her position, Sushma has erred again and provided the opposition sufficient ammunition to attack her in Parliament. Being an experienced leader, who has also served as the Leader of Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha, she perhaps took the calculated risk with the belief that her action would evoke sympathy for her as well as get her more support from her party.
This, evidently, has not happened and a clueless BJP is finding it hard to get the two Houses to function normally, so that important bills including the Land and GST legislations can be taken to their logical conclusion. A senior leader had sarcastically remarked that “for BJP, Sushma is any day more important than GST and the Land Bills. Why else would they continue to adopt such a passive approach towards Parliament’s functioning?”
There is also a growing feeling in political circles that the BJP floor managers were not adequately equipped to tackle the opposition. Their failure to negotiate with the opposition has immensely contributed to the House logjam.
In addition, Congress MPs, some of whom figure amongst the suspended lot, are blaming the Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for acting in a partisan manner, thereby failing in her duty as the presiding officer of the Lok Sabha. Mahajan, who has won over half a dozen times from Indore, is bearing the brunt of criticism for enforcing the suspension of Congress MPs, resulting in the grand old party getting a lifeline.
This apparently has happened when the Congress was virtually being isolated, with regional parties in no mood to give credence to the protests by Congressmen. Before the suspension, it was becoming abundantly clear that the regional outfits may have a similar line of protest as the Congress, but were not going to give the leadership role to it.
The turn of events, thanks to BJP’s poor floor coordination, has momentarily united the entire opposition, thereby ensuring that nothing concrete would be achieved in the remaining days of the stormy session.
In fact, there are many who also feel that if the Congress is being resurrected, even if in a small measure, the BJP has only itself to blame. Lack of experience in running the Houses is showing up and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enormous effort in getting the party a majority of its own for the first time is being allowed to be wasted. The only plausible explanation for this could be that there is indeed an internal feud going on within the Sangh Parivar and the Prime Minister is being wilfully denied the opportunity by some of his opponents to consolidate his gains by giving shape to his dream legislations.
The Congress was on the back foot all along and the BJP seemed in the most envious position during the past 14 months. But developments of the last few weeks should be a cause of anxiety for the saffron brigade. If not careful, it may lose the battle of perception. Between us.