The end of the year should have been triumphant for Narendra Modi . Government was running well and electoral victories in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Kashmir were stunning. But the Winter session in Parliament was not successful . The BJP has a majority in Lok Sabha . But in Rajya Sabha, BJP has no majority. In such situations, if Government wants a Law passed, it can have a Joint session of both Houses and get Bills passed. However this is an extreme remedy and rarely done. The BJP government wanted to pass many laws in Rajya sabha to help the economy. The Opposition sensed this urgent need of the Government and started raising difficulties, using any pretext.
The Congress party did not lead the disruptions since the public will turn even more hostile to them. It used smaller Trinamul Congress of Mamata Banerjee and Left parties to disrupt the Rajya Sabha. The Opposition in the Rajya Sabha demanded that Narendra Modi must speak on the issue of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and conversions and such issues.
The opposition wanted to diminish the prestige of prime Minister Modi . They insisted that Prime Minister make a statement on conversions . The idea was to attack Modi in the Rajya sabha and diminish his prestige . Sensing this possibility, BJP naturally ensured that the Prime Minister Modi did not speak in the Rajya Sabha . So the stalemate continued and no laws could be passed in the Rajya Sabha . But the Government needed reforms for the economy. Particularly, the Government wanted laws regarding Insurance, Land Acquisition law of 2013. Since the bill were not passed , Government got Ordinances signed by the President. An ordinance is a law, but it must be approved within 6 months by Parliament . Unless there is a grave emergency, government does not resort to Ordinances .
By getting Ordnances, the BJP has shown that it does not control parliament, which is a sign of weakness. The media attacked the government for its inability to tackle parliament and get laws passed. The business community also said that Ordinances meant that the laws were forced and since parliament did not pass them, they might be reversed later.
There is general agreement that Narendra Modi is doing well. The normally impatient people of India are satisfied that they have a government which is working for the common man . People under-estimated Narendra Modi and thought he will never be able to handle foreign affairs since he was not highly educated or experienced. No one thought that Narendra Modi will be able to understand the intricacies of foreign policy . Modi has proved them all wrong.
But running a country is just not controlling the officials. New laws have to be passed. Moreover, Indian parliament represents the entire country and it is important for Indian democracy that Parliament function well . The Prime Minister has to earn the respect and affection of Parliament. Though the Opposition might be small, an Indian prime Minister must never try to bully parliament . When Nehru was Prime Minister, he had a huge majority in both Houses of Parliament. But he showed maximum respect and always tried to oblige the Opposition.
P.V. Narisimha Rao had no majority in the Lok Sabha when he was Prime Minister between 1991-96. Yet, he got everything he wanted from Parliament. During Narasimha Rao’s time, the country faced an economic crisis, Punjab rebellion, Kashmir problems and Assam violence . Yet, he carried parliament along with great tact and always obliged individual MPs and parties. Narasimha Rao nominated Leader of the Opposition Atal Behari Vajpayee to lead delegations to the United Nations . Naraismha Rao told his Ministers that they must show respect to the Opposition MPs. He further said that his was a Minority government and cannot anger MPs of any party .He earned goodwill and finished his full 5 years with only 225 MPs. Modi has over 280 MPs.
Narendra Modi had never been in Parliament . He might have been a successful Chief Minister of Gujarat . But parliament and Delhi are different. Opposition MPs do not care for the ruling party if they belong to regional parties. A government cannot control them . MPs might respect you if you win elections. But you need their affection and for that , the prime minister has to reach out to both individual MPs and their leaders . MPs must get appointments with the prime minister and if they seek favours, he must try to oblige them within the law. If Modi follows the example of P.V. Narasimha Rao to some extent, he will never have trouble in parliament. Even if the leaders of Opposition parties want to create problems, the individual MPs will not participate . But un-fortunately, the BJP committed a whole host of mistakes.
a. In victory, BJP and Modi should be magnanimous. . Modi and BJP should understand that after elections , they should respect the opposition and win them over. But unless the BJP and Modi compromise with the Opposition through persuasion , there will be trouble. This happens in all democracies . In USA, though Barack Obama is President, he has failed to win the opposition and hence never passes any new laws. The Opposition did not want to give him any victories as they found him arrogant . No law has been passed recently in US because Obama does not have a working relationship with his opponents. The same thing is happening in India.
b. BJP government must understand that it is no longer in opposition and making funny, insulting speeches in Parliament is self-defeating. The BJP feels that winning a debate is enough. But in reality, the opposition is becoming more determined to fight the BJP and they are uniting . There just seems to be no leader in the BJP who is ready to reach out to the Opposition.
c. Most BJP Ministers are not seasoned politicians . They do not seem to feel they should oblige Opposition MPs and respect them. Most of the Ministers are in Rajya Sabha and have no mass base. They do not understand that MPs are politicians and they want to oblige their voters and hence Government can win them over. In a democracy, there is no other way a government can work.
d. BJP government also made a big publicity issue of getting defeated MPs evicted and Ex- Ministers shifted out of their bungalows. Of course, it must be done. But the in-sensitive way it was done, had angered the entire political class in Delhi. The BJP government made it a big media event. The politicians felt insulted and they want to insult Prime minister. BJP government might say they were following rules. But there are traditions set in India for the last 62 years ,which have to be followed. Government will not work if rival politicians are humiliated.
e. The BJP government does not have a system whereby different Ministers are given responsibility to coordinate with other political parties and ensure smooth sailing in Parliament. Every successful government has a “ back-channel “ links with Opposition parties. There is a total absence of use of diplomacy and soft skills to win over opposition. Mrs. Indira Gandhi had a huge majority. But her government became un-popular because she just could not reach out to the opposition and they started attacking her everywhere. Narisimha Rao did not have a majority and yet he was never attacked the way Indira Gandhi was. That is the difference .
f. Narendra Modi is keeping a distance from political parties. He cannot afford to become inaccessible and un-helpful to opposition parties. He has to change his attitude . Modi thinks that once he gets a majority in the Rajya Sabha , then he can do anything. He cannot be more wrong. The parliamentary system does not work like that. Whatever might be the majority a government has, it has to compromise and take the Opposition along. The BJP has to do that as difficult as it might be.
g. When the BJP was in Opposition from 2004 to 2014, it constantly disrupted Parliament. They have set the precedent for the Opposition. It is now upto the BJP to change its stance. Another interesting development is that giant Indian Corporates are also criticizing the BJP for being unable to handle parliament. The Government is responsible for Parliament working and it has to make serious compromises to ensure that. It is not the role of the Opposition to run parliament.
h. There is also a feeling that many Ministers are flattering Modi and ensuring that he takes wrong steps . They convince him that he is very popular and that the Opposition has to bend to his orders or the people will throw them out.
However mighty or popular the Prime Minister might be, he has no option but to follow earlier Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru and P.V. Narsimha Rao and win over the Opposition . Modi should remember how another Gujarati Prime Minister Morarji Desai had over 377 Lok Sabha MPs in 1977 and yet his government collapsed within 3 years due to his un-compromising and rigid stances. The other problem for Modi is that only he has a big stature. His other ministers are unable to convince opposition parties. The lack of mass leaders in the cabinet also makes the opposition careless towards the government . Speaking English well is not enough .
The BJP has not made efforts to win over neutral and regional parties like the Trinamul Congress. . The Trinamul Congress feels that BJP is aggressively trying to spread in Bengal. But that should not have led to enmity in parliament. The BJP feels that since it won the elections, all politics are over and politicians must bow down. That will never happen in a democracy. In neighboring Sri lanka, President Rajapaksha thought he had no opposition till elections were declared and then even his closest Ministers of 15 years standing started defecting . Politicians wait for the right time to strike.
The BJP President Amit Shah has shown great political sense and winning elections. Shah has won over many opponents of the BJP. The same kind of tactics and strategy are needed in parliament. The BJP needs an Amit Shah in parliament to win over opponents to allow Parliament to work. Prime Minister Modi needs to review where he has failed in parliament and why .
Narendra Modi is losing prestige as he is unable to get Parliament to respect him. This will get worse as time goes on. While he is enjoying great success , he seems unable to understand that BJP must change its style in parliament. So far, as BJP is winning elections, Modi can manage . But once he loses a state or two, then troubles will start as they did for Indira Gandhi and even Vajpayee. The Opposition will not go away. Modi has to work with it and his colleagues are not enough . He has to find solutions if he wants parliament to work and his government to run smoothly. .
This reminds me of what happened in the British Parliament, the mother of all Parliaments. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell had removed King Charles of England and was virtual dictator of England. But Oliver Cromwell had a famous fight with Parliament which is remembered to this day . On 20th. April, 1653, Cromwell listened to some critical speeches in Parliament . Then he stood up and abused the MPs and said :
“ You have sat too long for any good you have done. Depart and go. You are no Parliament “. Then he ordered his soldiers to throw out all the English MPs and closed Parliament. But within few years, Parliament and King were back.
Similarly, in1933, Adolf Hitler found the German Parliament an obstacle for him. So with a brute majority he got passed and “ Enabling Law “, which meant that henceforth Hitler can pass any law since Parliament had authorized him. After that, Hitler became a dictator . India Gandhi tried the same tricks during the Emergency in 1975 and subdued Parliament .
Modi cannot do all that and must remember that at the beginning of his term, he must not have confrontation but compromise with parliament. He should shunt aside his advisers and find compromises himself. He is very good at dealing with troublesome international leaders . Why cannot he deal with our Indian leaders ?