Rahul Gandhi

 Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reply to the Motion of Thanks on the President's Address, in New Delhi, on Tuesday, July 2. PTI/Screengrab via Sansad TV

Parliament test cleared, but bigger challenges await INDIA bloc

Opposition realises that real fight is electoral and it has to put up a united front against BJP in coming Asembly elections

The Parliament session which concluded on Wednesday (July 3) showcased a united, tenacious, and belligerent Opposition’s resolve to hold Prime Minister Narendra Modi accountable for his government’s many failures of the past decade and to blunt, if not prevent, his rapacious undermining of parliamentary norms and conventions.

If the inaugural session of the 18th Lok Sabha was its first post-poll test, the Opposition passed it with flying colours. The 234-plus member INDIA squad projected a steadfast, belligerent, and tenacious stance against Modi. On Tuesday (July 2), the INDIA bloc drowned Modi’s speech under loud slogans of protest in the Lok Sabha during the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address - a disturbing first for the Prime Minister.

Opposition finds its mojo

On Wednesday (July 3), the Opposition may have walked out of the Rajya Sabha during Modi’s speech, but it was clear that the INDIA bloc’s robust protests in the Lok Sabha a day earlier and its spirited dissent in the Upper House had achieved the seemingly impossible. It forced the PM to speak on the raging ethnic violence in Manipur, even if he predictably gave his own government a clean chit on the issue while doing so.

It was evident that the Opposition, buoyed by a mandate that has now put its ranks in the Lower House at an almost equal footing with the government’s, had finally found its mojo. After a decade of being muzzled and browbeaten by the government and even presiding officers of the two Houses of Parliament, the Opposition was now eager to make up for the years it lost.

With Rahul Gandhi as the first Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha in a decade - and arguably one who has more reasons than any other INDIA leader to corner Modi - it is clear that the next five years will witness a noisy Parliament hurtling from one logjam to another, determined to cripple the NDA government.

Breaking myths about Modi

“The people of India have broken the myth of Modi’s electoral invincibility and now it is our job as the Opposition to break the other myth created by the BJP ecosystem - that of Modi being a strong Prime Minister. The Opposition today is just 60-odd members short of the NDA’s tally and it will ensure that Modi no longer runs the country like a dictator. The people have voted for a strong Opposition to keep Modi under check and we will do just that,” newly-elected Congress MP Praniti Shinde told The Federal.

Opposition’s challenge is to remain united

With the Parliament’s session now over, the Opposition realises that its greater tasks and challenges lie outside the temple of democracy.

A senior Opposition leader said, “Every leader of the INDIA bloc knows that Modi will do everything in his power to try and break us; our biggest challenge is to keep personal interests and ambitions aside and remain united because it is only a matter of time before this government begins to falter. Modi may be all sugar and honey with his allies right now, but sooner or later he will revert to his autocratic style and his two key allies (TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and JDU president Nitish Kumar) will grow weary.”

A Lok Sabha floor leader of one of the INDIA bloc parties conceded that any celebration of the Opposition’s boisterous show of strength in Parliament during the just concluded session would be “premature”.

“Even with way fewer numbers, the same Opposition had been able to stall Parliament on several occasions in the latter half of Modi’s second stint in power. It is true that our increased numbers will make it difficult for the government and the presiding officers of the two Houses to run Parliament the same way they did over the past decade; things like mass suspensions, passing legislation without debate, bypassing standing committees and all may not happen... but all of this does not make our electoral fight with the BJP any easier. What will count ultimately is whether electorally we are able to stand united against the BJP for the next five years”, this leader said.

‘Modi standing on two crutches’

Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee believes the Opposition made a “very good start” with the 18th Lok Sabha’s inaugural session.

“We have succeeded in giving Modi the message that it cannot be business as usual... there is a very strong and united Opposition while Modi is standing on two crutches, one given by Naidu and the other by Nitish. He has to stand against a strong Opposition and at the same time he also has to balance himself on these crutches,” Banerjee told The Federal.

‘The real fight is electoral’

Sources in the INDIA bloc said that the alliance’s senior leaders would soon begin the process of chalking out strategies for keeping their flock vigilant against the BJP when Parliament is not in session.

“Keeping the alliance alive in the public eye is the most important thing. Parliament meets for just 60 or 70 days in a year and we cannot just be happy with putting up a united fight against the BJP when Parliament is in session. The real fight is electoral. We have to fight as the INDIA bloc in several states which will go to the polls over the next few months, beginning with Maharashtra and Jharkhand. And there is no denying that organisationally and financially the BJP is still stronger than us in many places and that is something we have to change quickly. We need to have a joint strategy in place so that we don’t lose the momentum that the Lok Sabha result has given us,” a leader close to Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge told The Federal.

With INDIA bloc satraps such as Kharge, Rahul, Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray, Hemant Soren, and even the mercurial Mamata Banerjee coordinating the efforts, sources say the Opposition wants to keep up its offensive against the Modi regime through joint media interactions, protests and rallies on emotive issues such as the NEET exam row, paper leaks, and financial dues owed to the state by the Centre, among others.

Though no formal decision has been taken yet, it is learnt that discussions on such joint campaigns are on among INDIA bloc leaders. The forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand as well as the next Parliament session, likely to be convened by the end of this month to present the Modi government’s annual budget, will afford the INDIA bloc both reason and opportunity to keep up their combined onslaught against the BJP.

‘Vindictive pushback’ from govt expected

The INDIA leaders also anticipate a “vindictive pushback” from the regime.

“In his address to the Lok Sabha, Modi threatened strong action against the Opposition for protesting while he was speaking... it was an open threat that is still part of the Lok Sabha records and this could mean only one thing. Everyone knows how his government misuses probe agencies for political vendetta; even the Jharkhand High Court’s bail order in Hemant Soren’s case has made this clear. So very soon you will see all kinds of cases being cooked up against Opposition leaders; they may start freezing accounts of all parties like they did with the Congress. We are prepared for all such things. But if he thinks he will be able to scare the INDIA bloc into silence, he will realise very soon that he is wrong,” said JMM MP Vijay Hansdak.

Mandate against BJP

Rahul Kaswan, who quit the BJP ahead of the general elections and is now a Congress MP from Rajasthan’s Churu constituency, believes that the Lok Sabha result that pitted INDIA bloc’s official tally of 234 MPs against the NDA’s 293 MPs is the “strongest glue” that will keep the Opposition united.

“The mandate was against the BJP and I think every MP of the INDIA bloc knows that the public has elected them to keep this government in check. BJP will try to intimidate and break us, but it will not work this time; even during the parliament session you could see that our unity has become stronger than before and I am sure that in the coming days you will see this unity outside Parliament too,” Kaswan claimed.

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