After Narendra Modi’s blistering attack at the end of the Lok Sabha debate on the motion of thanks to the President, the opposition has been in two minds whether or not to allow him a repeat performance in the Rajya Sabha.
For days, opposition parties disrupted proceedings in the Upper House, forcing daily adjournments. The strategy sparked off speculation that the Rajya Sabha would break all convention and disallow debate and passage of the motion of thanks in order to snatch away Modi’s pulpit from which he could once again go hammer and tongs at the opposition.
Wiser counsel seems to have prevailed now. The debate has happened, albeit a fractious one. But as old timers point out, had the Rajya Sabha not passed the motion of thanks, it would have been a huge mark of disrespect to the President. And given the possibility that the President may emerge as a crucial player after the polls in case the verdict throws up a hung Parliament, the opposition seems to have realized that it wouldn’t do to annoy him at this point.
Most parliamentarians cannot remember a time when the motion of thanks to the President has not been debated and passed in both Houses of Parliament. Apart from the political implications, non-passage of the motion of thanks is considered a snub to the President. However deeply divided, the opposition and the ruling party have always sunk their differences to deliver this mark of respect.
While the Rajya Sabha has pulled back from hammering another nail into Parliament’s coffin, the developments of the past few days are worrying. Never has the chasm between the government and the opposition been so wide and so deep.
The political signal emerging from this should concern the BJP. It’s a measure of its declining authority and reaffirms its inability to get parties together and run Parliament. Old timers who are keen observers of political ebbs and flows in Parliament are wondering what will happen if the BJP fails to win a majority in the upcoming general election. If it was unable to reach out to the opposition to honour parliamentary conventions properly, then can the BJP cobble together a post-poll coalition government and make it run its full term? Many are asking this question in the corridors of Parliament House after the cavalier treatment meted out to the motion of thanks debate in the Rajya Sabha.
The Modi government has already been embarrassed for two successive years when the Opposition joined hands and forced an amendment to the motion of thanks, first in 2016 and then in 2017.
Technically, non-passage of the motion of thanks in the Rajya Sabha does not affect the life of the government, which is probably why the BJP didn’t make any effort on the issue. In the Lok Sabha, the motion of thanks is considered a trust vote. So it is imperative that the government ensures that the Lower House passes the motion otherwise it would be forced to resign.
The Lok Sabha passed the motion last week itself. And Modi had the final word, much to the discomfiture of the opposition.
BJP’s Odisha hope
The meteoric rise of former IAS officer Aparajita Sarangi in the BJP has stunned party circles. Reputed for her work on NREGA while on deputation to the centre from her home state of Odisha, Sarangi jointed the BJP only in November last year.
Yet, she is already being talked of as a potential chief minister candidate for Odisha if the BJP comes to power. Posters have sprung up in the state which are dominated by large pictures of her while union petroleum minister from the state Dharmendra Pradhan and state BJP president Basanta Panda have been given smaller billing and relegated to one corner.
BJP circles say that Amit Shah is impressed by Sarangi’s work on NREGA and feels that she has more spark and savvy to bring in votes than the low profile Pradhan and lackluster Panda. There will be simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and the state assembly in Odisha this year.
Sarangi’s quick promotion is unusual in a party that tends to distrust outsiders and prefers to keep them out of the limelight. Former BJD MP Jay Panda, who recently quit the party and the Lok Sabha in the hope of finding a berth in the BJP, is a case in point.
Although he is articulate, popular and savvy, Panda has been kept on tenterhooks by the BJP. He has not been inducted into the party yet and there’s uncertainty about whether he’ll even get a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls.
Panda’s drawback is his relationship with Odisha chief minister Navin Patnaik. They were once very close but had a bad falling out some time ago. In fact, they are on such hostile terms now that those close to Panda believe that Patnaik’s government is going out of its way to harass the former MP and his family. Panda’s wife was recently summoned for questioning about her media business. A couple of days ago, the authorities refused landing permission to Panda’s helicopter in his former constituency of Kendrapara.
Mayawati picks up phone
Perhaps the most unusual response to Mamata Banerjee’s battle with the centre over the CBI raid on Kolkata police chief Rajeev Kumar came from Mayawati.
The BSP chief telephoned Mamata personally on Sunday night, after news spread about the CBI swoop, and spoke to her for four minutes. She was among the first to call the Bengal chief minister.
Mayawati almost never telephones any political leader herself. She prefers to let her main political aide Satish Mishra do the talking for her. Occasionally, she accepts telephone calls from other leaders such as Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel or Sharad Pawar. But she prefers to wait for them to call. She does not pick up the phone and dial them.So her telephone call to Mamata was a pathbreaking initiative for Mayawati. It is significant also because the two women leaders are seen as potential rivals for the post of prime minister should the opposition form the next government.
Interestingly, Rahul Gandhi dialed Mamata at the same time as Mayawati. Naturally the Bengal chief minister’s phone was engaged. He had to try again later.