BJP needs a new political strategy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to face a plethora of challenges when he returns from his foreign trip at the end of the week. The immediate impact of the Grand Alliance’s massive Bihar victory this month will be felt in the ensuing Winter Session of Parliament, as an emboldened and united opposition is likely to make it a washout. A win for the NDA could have given the Modi government the much-needed political authority to push its long-pending reform bills. Poll results, however, have given the opposition an advantage.
There is also disquiet in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the Bihar Assembly defeat. The leadership has to deal with its own MPs like Shatrughan Sinha and RK Singh who are waiting to speak out at the party forum about the defeat. There are other MPs who are quietly watching the scene. There are also the RSS affiliates like the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch who are opposed to some of the reform measures.
However, it is important for Prime Minister Modi to restore his credibility in India and abroad to attract investment. Such an aim can only be achieved by pushing through important legislations.
Apprehensive of the opposition’s moves, while announcing the dates of the Winter Session, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu has asked the opposition not to use the Bihar debacle as a mandate to disrupt the Parliament. The Congress, along with the Left, Janata Dal (U), Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and other parties had stalled the entire Monsoon session, demanding the resignation of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje over their alleged links with former IPL chief Lalit Modi.
The Congress strategy is to delay the reform process so that the Modi government does not get the credit. This was exactly what the BJP did when it was in the opposition. The Congress, along with other opposition parties, are planning to force a vote on the FDI proposals on media and defence, hoping to defeat these on the floor of the Rajya Sabha. As far as the goods and services tax (GST) Bill is concerned, the Congress may soften its stand if the government reaches out to the party. The differences can be narrowed down to just three or four issues like fixing of an 18 percent ceiling rate, the scrapping of the proposal to levy an additional one percent tax and increasing representation of states in the GST council. Indicating their mood, the opposition parties, including the Congress, JD(U), RJD, the Left parties and the NCP, have also given notices demanding a debate on the issue of intolerance.
Incidentally, the Bihar polls have created a new challenge for the Congress with the success of Nitish Kumar who will now become a nucleus for a broader secular alliance. According to political commentators, the broader secular alliance could include Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Arvind Kejriwal (Aam Aadmi Party), and others. JD (U) has already called for a common opposition agenda in the Parliament and may also rope in the Samajwadi Party. It will be the political strategy of the BJP to divide the opposition.
It is well known that while the BJP has a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, the situation in the Rajya Sabha is the reverse. In the 245-member Upper House, it has only 48 members. With a belligerent opposition, it will be difficult to pass any legislation unless the BJP reaches out to them. Given that there are 67 Bills pending in both houses - 59 in the Rajya Sabha and 8 in the Lok Sabha apart from the introduction of new Bills, the government faces a massive challenge to ensure smooth business in the house.
There are a few options before the ruling party. The first is to keep its allies in good humour and keep the NDA intact. Worrisome for the BJP, NDA allies like the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal attended the swearing-in ceremony of Nitish Kumar on November 20. The second is to shed its majoritarian approach in the Parliament. As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has signalled, the BJP must reach out to the opposition to seek consensus.
The third is Prime Minister Modi himself should make some efforts to talk to the opposition leaders both individually and collectively to impress upon the need for the reform measures. A little humility on his part would go a long way. After all, minus the Left parties, most other parties do not oppose reforms. In fact, some of the bills were brought by the UPA.
The fourth is to use the ordinance route after a washed out session but this is not desirable, going by the fate of the recent bills, 87 of which could not be pushed through. In any case, they have to be brought before the budget session of the Parliament and it may see the same fate in Rajya Sabha.
In all respects, it is clear that the Winter Session is critical for Modi both on the economic and political fronts. It is a test of Modi’s political handling of the affairs as well as keeping his credibility at home and abroad.
(The author is a senior political commentator. Views expressed are strictly personal)