It might have been an embarrassing pinprick rather than a serious setback that the government suffered in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, but it underscored a glaring weakness in the NDA administration ~ its management of parliamentary affairs has been inept from “day one”.
A change in the cabinet minister holding the relevant portfolio has not helped, because Ananth Kumar, like Venkaiah Naidu before him, remains intoxicated by the BJPs numerical strength in the Lok Sabha and ignores the need for carrying the Opposition in the Elders along with the Treasury.
And the junior minister handling the assignment in the Rajya Sabha strives to emulate the party leadership in believing that confrontation is the name of the game, that it would be evidence of weakness to seek cooperation even when it is obvious that support from across the floor is desirable.
That a critical clause had to be “dropped” in the Rajya Sabha-approved version of the Bill granting Constitutional status to the OBC Commission must be seen as a personal rebuke to the Prime Minister who had accorded much priority to the Bill. No doubt the legislation could be re-worked, but that will not alter the reality that Narendra Modi has been forced to eat crow ~ something which he obviously will not appreciate. For all the allegations/charges that flew from the Treasury benches, the fact remains that the government did a pathetic job of mustering its numbers: the debate was spread over several hours, so the shortfall could not have gone unnoticed.
Yet no fruitful effort was made to round up the flock ~ which included ministers. The Opposition did a much better job, its floor-managers “sensed” an opportunity, exploited it effectively. What action the Prime Minister will take remains to be seen; Modi has frequently upbraided BJP members for poor attendance but to little avail.
Maybe a few “surprise” visits to either the Lok Saha or Rajya Sabha will help ~ at present he participates only when necessary ~ ensure greater discipline: even if that adds up to an expression of a lack of confidence in the ability of his squad of parliamentary managers. A ministerial reshuffle is on the cards, maybe Modi could look beyond filling vacancies and seek to remedy the malaise under focus.
This government has tended to give the Rajya Sabha short shrift because it would be a close call for it to acquire majority-strength before 2019. Yet the answer lies not in using the “money Bill” route to bypass the Upper House, or suggesting that a bicameral system be abolished.
Modi has frequently emphasised the need for consensus and cooperation, Parliament would be the best place to launch a mission to achieve that. Another landslide in 2019 cannot be “taken as read”