The winter session of Parliament is fast approaching amid speculation that it could be another waste of time and money. But the Opposition must learn from the BJP’s experience — and not let the Bihar results go to its head.
Shining in contrast should be its motto. The model being Nitish Kumar.
Like speed thrills but could kill, shrill talk can be suicidal politically. By re-endorsing Nitish, the people of Bihar have taught the politico the value of reason, of understatement and civil conduct, in our socio-political life. The forum to showcase that between elections is Parliament.
For these reasons, non-BJP parties, notably the Congress, must unsheathe sobriety, not the sabre when the House meets later this month. For now is the time to debate and educate the electorate.
The urban Indian that got revolted by the BJP’s sordid campaign has abhorrence for chaos and pell-mell in the chambers meant to make laws. He’s looking for policy options. Not politically motivated rejection of government policies.
In the Bihar elections, Nitish repeatedly dared Prime Minister Modi to a debate. The Opposition would squander the advantage it gained there, if it’s found running away from the challenge of engaging with the treasury.
Take for instance the GST on which the Opposition cannot sustain the logjam for long. Many consumer states, including Bihar, stand to gain from it. As the principal Opposition, the Congress therefore must take the lead in educating people from the floor of Parliament on the ‘loopholes’ in the proposed law and the recipe it has for its improvement.
The points of disagreement on the GST aren’t a conundrum that can’t be cracked through debate and consultations that, of course, have to be initiated by the NDA regime. Finance minister Arun Jaitley has already said he’d reach out to leaders of other parties, including Rahul Gandhi.
It would be encouraging if the government treats the letter Jaitley’s predecessor P Chidambaram wrote to him in August this year, as the base paper in the talks with the Opposition. For detailed in it are their varying perceptions on three sticking points — the one percent additional levy (permitted to producing states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat) the Congress considers a ‘distortion’ that should be removed; leaving dispute resolution to an independent body instead of the GST council; writing down the GST ceiling in the Constitution.
While it considers the NDA’s overtures, if or when they’re made, the Congress must remember that the GST bill was originally brought in 2011 by its own UPA regime. It cannot be obdurate — the way the BJP was stalling it for several years — and yet be seen as responsible. As a party in the Opposition, its best option to reclaim the governance tag is in presenting alternative policy frameworks.
At the same time, the NDA’s political salvation — as Chidambaram pointed out in his letter to Jaitley — is in abandoning the “majoritarian” approach and sitting across the table. That would at once help the government tackle in Parliament a host of socially discordant issues that arose from the assertive majoritarianism it promoted or tacitly backed after the 2014 polls.
Such optimism wouldn’t be misplaced if the Prime Minister is an active participant in debates on subjects suggestive of rising intolerance. If Nitish becomes the Opposition’s role model, Narendra Modi must emulate the PM he was while addressing the British Parliament.