Gujarat Assembly: Is this how a Congress-mukt Bharat will look?
A thinly populated, toothless opposition can do little to keep a check on the government
It was a strange situation in Gujarat last week. The opposition became so scarce that whatever queries were raised in the Assembly — few in number and mostly innocuous — were from MLAs of the ruling BJP.
The Congress, numerically the second largest party, has been reduced to 17 members in the Gujarat Assembly after the rout in the December 2022 election.
The party failed to win even 10 per cent of the 182 seats in the Lower House, thus not qualifying for the post of Leader of Opposition (LoP). But it was not just an LoP that was missing in action. Several Congress MLAs, including Amit Chavda, the party’s choice for the post of LoP, were not to be seen in the House, as they had trotted off to attend the Congress plenary in Chhattisgarh.
The BJP has for long been speaking of a Congress-mukt Bharat (‘India without Congress’). The current state of the Gujarat Assembly is more or less an indication of how that would appear if it does happen — a thinly populated, toothless opposition that keeps little check on the government.
Key Bills passed
The Assembly showed some promise of action to start with. On February 23, day one of the Assembly budget’s session, the Congress created some noise outside the Assembly, raising slogans over the issue of frequent question paper leaks in recruitment exams.
The same day, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2023 was passed in the Assembly by Minister of State for Home, Harsh Sanghavi. This was a please-all Bill, duly supported by Congress and AAP legislators.
Next, the Congress put up some resistance to the Gujarat Regularisation of Unauthorised Development (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which would allow regularisation of unauthorised constructions in urban areas after collecting an “impact fee” from the owners. The Congress protest hardly mattered, and the Bill was passed with the support of the AAP, which has five MLAs in the House.
Jignesh Mevani, the Congress MLA from Vadgam, spoke to the press on the state budget. Mevani, who was an Independent in his earlier stint as an MLA, has always been known for his aggressive questioning in the Assembly.
“The budget doesn’t talk about inflation or unemployment, which are burning issues in the state. There’s no mention if the state has got any Central funds. Overall, this budget is a cut-copy-paste of last year’s budget,” he thundered.
Again, his thundering hardly matters, for the BJP is secure in its brute majority.
The Assembly is where political discussions take place, so some BJP MLAs took it on themselves to put forth a few queries. Hardik Patel, Patidar leader and Viramgam BJP MLA, raised the issue of farmers’ exploitation in his constituency.
Hardik said he has also written to state Agriculture Minister Raghavji Patel, urging that non-BT cotton be added to the government’s procurement list for the minimum support price (MSP) regime. He also claimed that commercial dealers defraud farmers in the weighing of cotton bales.
Then, Hardik, who rose to fame with his Patidar agitation in 2015, told his Assembly colleagues he might launch an agitation yet again for the farmers.
Some more questions
Another BJP MLA who made some noise is Ketan Inamdar of Savli in Vadodara. He said there is rampant corruption in the Baroda District Co-operative Milk Producers Union Ltd (BDCMPUL), locally known as Baroda Dairy. The dairy’s management is led by the BJP.
On day three, Kumar Kanani, BJP MLA from Varachha constituency in Surat, criticised some government policies. Students going abroad do not receive loans easily under the government scheme, jeopardising their future, he complained.
Congress talks about budget
On February 28, the sixth day of the session, the Congress asked its first question on the budget — Imran Khedawala, MLA from Jamalpur Khadia seat in Ahmedabad, sought information on VAT collected on petrol, diesel, CNG and PNG.
Finance Minister Kanubhai Desai responded that the Gujarat government collected ₹20,216.5 crore in value added tax on petrol, diesel, CNG and PNG between February 1, 2022 and January 31, 2023, a 6.2 per cent increase from the previous year.
The budget session will go on till March 29. That gives the Congress in Gujarat another four weeks to raise relevant questions, but its thin numbers render any opposition futile. The ‘Gujarat model’ may not have value for the rest of the country in terms of socioeconomic progress, but it does hold a critical lesson on the need for a strong opposition.