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Millennium Post

Temple of Discordia

The 15th Lok Sabha has shown an unusual trait. In the last four-and-half years, the main political rivals – the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party – could never come out of the perpetual state of political slugfest. I have often wondered why did this happen. Several reasons could be put forward but the prime cause has been the issue of leadership not being settled in the principal Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The need to establish credentials has repeatedly forced the BJP leaders to fall back on the skills of oration but sadly not on the floor of parliament. The itch of these leaders has come in handy to meet the need for the 24-hour channels to keep alive the buzz. On the other hand, the Congress, with the issue of leadership more than settled, has opted to take on the BJP’s galaxy with its own set of spokespersons, each with his or her own distinctive style but a common cavalier approach.

The prime minister of the nation is traditionally also the leader of the lower house. They have in past led the nation in discussions and debates through their enunciations in the parliament, the Lok Sabha in particular. The arrangement within the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is to have its prime minister from the Rajya Sabha. In the past 10 years, it did away with the institution of prime minister as the leading debator of the nation. While his party leadership decided to deny Manmohan Singh the position of the Leader of the House in Lok Sabha, to remain more than quiet has been prime minister’s personal choice. For Manmohan Singh to remain silent on many matters bothering the country has not been a very discreet decision. The biggest casualty of the position taken by the prime minister has been the dilution in the gravity of public debate.

The Congress spokespersons in their cavalier cowboy approach have chosen to trivalise the most serious of the issues raised by the Opposition. They have done it with a design to submerge criticism in the cacophony of inanity. And the creation of a force of rabble-rousers cannot be blamed on the prime minister alone. The Congress bosses too have chosen not to provide leadership to the nation from the pulpit of parliament. The participation of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi have been far and few in between. When a ruling party leader speaks in parliament, he or she speaks for both the party and the government and it provides a sense of purpose to the parliamentary proceedings. Unfortunately the same has got lost with both the prime minister and the party leadership refusing to engage the Opposition either on the floor of the house or outside.

This gives rise to the question why did the Congress adopt such a strategy. While there may be questions about the public-speak abilities of the Congress president and the vice-president, why Manmohan Singh, a man of proven skills of oration, chose to not counter the verbal attacks launched by the Opposition with equal élan is intriguing. Some point out that this strategy has its roots in the fact that the BJP decided to not have its own parliamentary leaders as party’s prime movers.
Breaking away from the tradition of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, the BJP too, especially in the last five years, has decided not to handover the mantle of the leadership of the organisation to its parliamentary leaders. It has gone a step further in eroding the leadership of the central leaders and foisted regional satraps as party’s boss. From 1980 to 2005 we have had BJP presidents, who have been either effervescent parliamentarian in their own right or organisation men like Kushabhau Thakre, who worked to complement the parliamentary party leaders.
It’s a cliché to say that in the end democracy is all about numbers. However, it’s also true that a robust democracy is about number count being accompanied by high-level of debate. It had been very surprising that with some of the best orators as their floor leaders and other veterans, with equal ability to debate forcefully, BJP all these years took recourse to counter government with tools of stalling parliament than spurring the treasury benches into action with purposeful declamation.
It must be understood that oration in parliament is distinctly different from mere rhetoric, which public speak in most of the cases are reduced to. In the last five years, from the BJP side there indeed has been rhetoric in plenty and so has been the eagerness to bad-mouth the ruling alliance at the Centre but no substance to project itself as the national alternative.

The inability of the BJP to clearly forge an ideological position through debates in parliament made the political resolutions, adopted on the last day of each of the past several sessions of the national executive and council, infructuous. These resolutions failed to clearly spell out the ‘path of struggle which the party wanted to adopt to wrest power from the Congress’ at the Centre. The absence of parliamentary debate during the 15th Lok Sabha also saw challenge being posed to the authority of parliament through what came to be popularly called the Civil Society movement. That the movement crashed under the weight of the ambition of its leaders is another matter, but it must be realized by the believers in parliamentary democracy that debate alone and not disruption draws the road map of any political party.  

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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