Boldness was the theme. First, BJP president Amit Shah brought out the big guns to demolish the Congress, an attack somewhat muffled by Ghulam Nabi Azad’s deft footwork, terming the successor government a “repackaging agency”.
It’s that time of the year again when gusts of an early general election blow, its purpose still unclear, as NDA allies show their teeth to alter the terms of marriage and the Congress and other parties claim they’re always ready for elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made simultaneous polls to Parliament and the state Assemblies his priority. Having mastered the art of beating the system by securing a single-party majority for any party in 30 years, Mr Modi wants to downplay the importance of elections. The PM realises that a democratic form of government gives India global respect, but he’s a man in a hurry.
What we heard from the PM in the Lok Sabha, and somewhat more moderately in the Rajya Sabha, was a heartfelt cri de coeur of Mr Modi’s Congress obsession. He blamed the country’s Partition on the Congress, said Sardar Patel would have retained the whole of Kashmir for India and refrained from dividing Andhra. By storming the pre-Independence cupboard, Mr Modi showed his own rage with the Congress, saying in plain language: “You have left us your sins.” The parliamentary system, or any other genuine democratic system, presupposes that whatever the disagreement between the ruling side and the Opposition, all should treat each other with respect. What Mr Modi clearly showed was his utter contempt for the Congress.
How this will translate into making Parliament work in future is yet to be seen. One can’t escape the feeling that his special parliamentary gift on Rahul’s “coronation”, as he put it, was to make the latter’s task more difficult. The BJP’s earlier avatar, Jan Sangh, wasn’t part of the nation’s freedom movement, and from time to time party ideologues have sought to give ambiguous answers even to the RSS’ cooperation with the British. The picture was never fully explained or clarified. Now in power in the country, by virtue of the BJP’s victory, it is the new arbiter of destiny.
It’s not clear if Mr Modi thought of the consequences of burning his boats with the Congress. The kind of insults he hurled at the Congress, to the exclusion of national issues (as noted by Rahul Gandhi), was extraordinary for a PM speaking in his official capacity in Parliament.
This represents a crisis of Indian democracy unparalleled in the nation’s 70-year history. Mr Modi has declared that the world doesn’t need to give him and his party lessons in democracy. Judging by how the RSS’ top brass are elected, democracy has obviously other vibes for the Sangh Parivar.
The full contours of the PM’s gameplan are not clear yet. That he’s so consumed by the Congress that he forget his duties to the country as a responsible office-bearer begs description. Is he in the process of writing a new history of India with suitable roles for RSS leaders, or does he see himself as an all-conquering hero to change India from the roots upwards?
The Opposition, including the Congress, is somewhat puzzled by this new face of Mr Modi. The usually careful leader is showing signs of throwing caution to the winds to achieve his innermost desire. Does he want to signal partymen that he has his own temperament that must be satiated from time to time?
It’s certain, however, that Parliament won’t remain as it was before Mr Modi rose to alter the terms of decorum and debate. Judging by the time Jawaharlal Nehru and his generation spent in parliamentary debates, Mr Modi and his ministers are skimpy in attendance, and don’t treat the institution with the respect their predecessors gave.
Is there anyone who can repair the damage to the institution of India’s parliamentary democracy? Both the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha presiding officer are former loyal BJP members and lack the stature to intervene meaningfully. Perhaps Mr Modi himself will give indication of his wishes in due course. But the curious fact is that never before have the BJP and Sangh Parivar been so dependent on one person as it is today.
Over to the Congress. It’s for Rahul Gandhi and his colleagues to figure out what to make of the new puzzle presented to him. One is to get fellow parliamentarians together to fight for a just cause. Second, the Congress must firm up alliances. There’s a lot of work left to do.