The general perception after the adjournment motion debate on Lalitgate in Parliament is that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, helped by her exceptionally eloquent colleague Arun Jaitley, scored massive brownie points to trounce Congress opponents led by Rahul Gandhi. However, the fact is that the debate showed Parliament at its worst, with personal charges being levelled without any restraint, while the pertinent questions raised by the opposition about Swaraj’s conduct in helping former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi’s wife remained unanswered.
One would have expected that the Foreign Minister would have satisfied all her adversaries by addressing issues that have been raised ever since she spoke to the British High Commissioner, without keeping her ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office in the loop. Instead, she appeared to be of the view that offence is the best form of defence and thus hit out at the Gandhi family in a no holds barred attack. In the process, the debate degenerated into a slanging match, which shall be long remembered not as much for its content but for the viciousness it spewed.
It was not a question of who won or who lost. It reflected very poorly on Indian Parliament, which has never in the past seen such personalised confrontation. A veteran leader like Sharad Pawar also commented that the level of engagement left so much to be desired. What he rightly feared is that after such acrimony and ugliness, it shall be very difficult to restore a harmonious functional relationship between the ruling party and its principal opponents. The bitterness could spill over to future sessions as well. The Congress has little to lose, since it is already on 44 in the Lok Sabha. However, the BJP, which touched the majority mark on its own steam for the very first time, courtesy Narendra Modi’s aggressive campaign in 2014, would find it hard to consolidate its position.
The Congress has committed many blunders, for which it is paying, given its lowest tally in a Parliamentary poll and its loss of four state governments in the past year — Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir. But the BJP, which showcases itself as the party of the future, has much to lose if it does not take immediate steps to remove the discord. There has been some criticism that the Prime Minister, despite being in the Parliament House premises did not come to either House to placate members. He being the leader of the Lok Sabha, his presence during a crucial debate of this nature was something which would have been expected in the normal course. Rahul, therefore, was able to have a field day.
There are some rudimentary principles in Parliamentary democracy, which should always be adhered to, whatever the situation may be. One of them is that there should be continuous engagement between the treasury benches and the opposition, a matter which seemed to be missing during the monsoon session. It is easy to blame each other, but primarily the ruling party has more to lose since it runs the government. The opposition is not expected to be irresponsible either, but it can take certain liberties which the ruling members should be able to checkmate. Personalised attacks are certainly not amongst such measures as they lower the dignity and sanctity of Parliament.
In Venkaiah Naidu, the BJP has a very able Parliamentary Affairs Minister, who is not only political, but also knows how to use tact and flexibility to full advantage. But he alone cannot achieve everything, unless he is backed to the hilt by his other colleagues. The Parliamentary Minister is both the bridge between the government and the opposition, as well as between Parliament and the presiding officers. His is an immensely daunting task and thereby expectations from him are enormous, given the wealth of experience he has in public life. This he must use to end the disharmony in both Houses.
The general grouse of Members of Parliament during the past several decades is that the leadership does not make any attempt to ascertain their views on important issues before taking a decision. Obviously, the mechanism of connecting to the MPs is faulty and therefore they feel sidelined and alienated on many matters, even if they have to vote in accordance with the whip issued by their respective parties. If Parliamentary democracy has to evolve for the better, the interaction between the leadership and the MPs should be encouraged, and simultaneously, ideally speaking, there should be good personal rapport between MPs, regardless of their political affiliations. This would contribute in the smooth running of the House.
There are many supporters of the BJP, who seem to be disillusioned by the way things are happening. They have considerable expectations from this government. It is fine to score brownie points on how opposition was obstructing the growth rate of our economy. However, if nothing concrete is achieved, it is the government that would be held responsible by the people. Thus, the BJP’s leadership must review its strategy of transacting business in Parliament. The review would be in its own interest. Between us.