One conspicuous point in both Houses of Parliament during the long drawn out debate on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was the meticulous manner in which Union Home Minister Amit Shah stood his ground, taking head-on top Opposition leaders. There is little doubt that the new law would be challenged in the Supreme Court, given that it appears to have violated the basic structure of the Constitution, and therefore, would be the subject matter of judicial scrutiny in the immediate future.
However, regardless of what the outcome be in the Apex Court, Amit Shah has clearly demonstrated that he is no run-of-the-mill politician, but a leader who argues his case, after having done fine-combed homework on the topic of discussion. He, in the process, has the propensity of provoking his opponents by his strong defence of the government and minces no words in putting across the political agenda of his party. In the current context, the Opposition opposed the introduction of the bill due to the question of its constitutional discrepancy, while the BJP pushed its proposal for reaping essentially political dividends for the further consolidation of its Hindu majority vote bank.
Shah outdid everyone else who participated in the debate, mainly because he came fully prepared to meet the challenge. He referred to Nehru’s position, both in 1947 and 1950, and went into thoroughgoing historical details to drive home his point. It was a satisfying experience to see that the minister cared to respond individually to those who were against the motion. In fact, Parliament, for a long time, has not witnessed such a spirited and vibrant defence by a Cabinet member.
In the past three decades, there have been only two leaders who have not required any aid or assistance to speak on multiple matters; the two being former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and former Deputy PM, L.K. Advani. Chandra Shekhar could talk on the most contentious issues with ready ease that those listening to him would be totally enraptured by his oration and the simplicity of content. Advani’s comprehension of Parliamentary procedures and conventions set him in an altogether different class. Despite being a distinguished speaker, even his senior colleague, Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not match the thesis and logic, which was the backbone of Advani’s discourse in Parliament.
Prior to them, there were a number of luminaries who would leave audiences spell-bound by their interventions in both houses. The incomparable Madhu Limaye—who had inherited the skills of his senior socialist colleagues, Nath Pai, H.V. Kamath and Ram Manohar Lohia—was an exceptional parliamentarian. Besides him, there were several Left stalwarts, such as Inderjit Gupta and Jyotirmoy Basu, who took Parliamentary debates to an all new level. From the treasury benches, Indira Gandhi, Babu Jagjivan Ram and to some degree Y.B. Chavan were a class apart.
However, in the post Rajiv Gandhi era, very few Congress leaders came up to the mark. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Kamal Nath, who is an extremely structured politician, always made it to the House well-prepared, as did both Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram. Their performances were never highlighted since the focus remained on the Prime Minister and the Congress high command.
Parliament has always been the arena where the competence of leaders is tested. Firstly each speaker addresses an informed audience, and therefore, is vulnerable to heckling, if there is faltering on facts. Secondly, the holdover procedures and processes make it relatively easy for a politician to put across his viewpoint, while blocking out a counter view. It is a combination of many factors that goes into the making of a Parliamentarian, who always has to keep his ears to the ground. Unfortunately, in the present Parliament, only a handful of leaders present a realistic scenario. Most of them are in the dark regarding any background information, thereby their tunnel vision responses.
This problem is most obvious in the treasury benches where several members appear overawed by the enormity of the platform. This is understandable since it takes time for ordinary politicians to grasp the subject matter and the course of discussion. In fact, in both Houses, the quality of speakers has been on the decline, and it is a rare show that some interest is kindled if the argument is presented with the zeal and the gusto befitting it.
In the Upper House, the Congress has many fine orators who seldom are provided an opportunity to participate in a discussion. The issue with the grand old party is that the speakers’ list is decided not according to the core competence of the leader but due to his proximity to the high command. In the latest instance, the Congress continued with its regular list and its primary leader in Rajya Sabha mixed up prosecution with persecution.
On the other hand, Amit Shah took it upon himself to confront the combined Opposition; he did so, in either House, without the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi has his own style of driving home his point, but Shah seems to have evolved exceptionally both as a leader and a Parliamentarian. One may not agree with his reasoning, yet he had done adequate research before piloting the bill. The Congress should understand that the current BJP leadership plans its political moves with careful diligence. They are not so much into the legality of an issue, but aim to put across a message to the core Hindu constituency. Shah, apparently, has emerged from the shadows of Modi, his mentor. Between us.