Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lengthy reply Wednesday to the debate in the two Houses of Parliament on the motion of thanks over the President’s address was unconventional, to say the least. Its principal characteristic — highlighting the manner in which it departed from the norm — was that it had little to say on the subject of the government’s policies and blueprint for future action.
On the contrary, it had every hallmark of a pre-election rally where the faithful root for the star speaker and unhappy souls show placards, or shout and heckle to show their displeasure. All of this was on full display as the PM spoke.
At the beginning of each year, the President’s address, given to a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, kicks off the Budget Session with a vision of what the government proposes to do through the year. Both Houses debate and discuss the ideas in the President’s address through what’s decorously called a motion of thanks to the First Citizen.
The discussion, in effect, is a process of scrutiny of the government’s actions and future plans. The process culminates with the Prime Minister, in the light of the points raised by MPs, replying to the debate by addressing the members’ concerns and the issues highlighted. As the PM is the highest authority in the political executive, the reply from that exalted office is eagerly awaited to understand the government’s policy direction. It is hoped the PM’s pivotal position will yield a substantive articulation of official positions on key issues, and shed light on dark areas.
This has been the pattern since the first Parliament in 1952. A dilution of this design, which upholds the system of parliamentary democracy in the country, has been seen throughout the Narendra Modi years. But what was in evidence on Wednesday was a no-holds-barred election-oriented political speech that didn’t even pretend to present the government’s position from the most authoritative quarters.
What was presented instead was a deeply unattested version of history in light of the understanding of the Hindu Right, and a view of the present that is in need of the most rigorous fact-checking.
An example of the first was Mr Modi’s assertion that India’s Partition was attributable to the Congress, and not British colonial policy pushed through the instrumentality of the Jinnah-led Muslim League. Indeed, the RSS view of history is yet to interrogate British rule in India. An example of the distortion of the present was the data offered by the PM on the non-performing assets of banks.
In specific terms, the PM’s parliamentary reply is proof of a massive diversionary exercise to enable the government to duck answering questions that affect the lives of ordinary Indians.