BJP leader Amit Shah’s statement that the NDA would be open to new alliances even if it had a majority of its own is a leaf out of the Left Front’s book. For the many years that it ruled West Bengal, the CPI-M shared power with allies despite having a legislative presence that could make it go solo.
The Marxists’ willingness to accommodate other Left parties in the government added to the gravitas they needed to push policy. The strategy also prevented fragmentation of the aggregate Left vote in elections.
The BJP’s overture to non-NDA parties is more of a necessity gift-wrapped as generosity. If it does assume power at the Centre after May 16, the Narendra Modi led coalition would need additional numbers in the Rajya Sabha for policy initiatives requiring legislative backing.
The NDA has a lesser presence in the House of Elders. That should cause it worry even if it gets substantial numbers in the Lok Sabha. The coalition knows full well to what use it put its numbers in the Rajya Sabha over the past decade to either block laws or put its indelible stamp on them.
Its lack of majority in the Upper House often left the UPA at the Opposition’s mercy for passage of several legislations. When the BJP bargained hard, it got its pound of flesh. A replication of that scenario in early phases of the new dispensation could dismantle its promise of decisive governance.
In its present shape--that might undergo some changes in the emerging scenario—the UPA has 80 members in the 245-strong House. The NDA’s tally of 64 could be augmented by new arrivals from a possible list including the Biju Janata Dal, the AIADMK and some sundry parties. The aisle crossers might get the BJP-led combine closer to the UPA’s tally. But it will remain short of a majority in the House.
There is little possibility of the Left, the Samajwadi, the Trinamool and the BSP joining the NDA or extending support. Together with the Congress, they’d constitute a formidable block capable of showing the government as dysfunctional.
More significantly, the Upper House is the forum where the PM and his ministers are put under sharper scrutiny, the rules permitting members to seek clarifications on their statements. A pro-active Opposition there will be a test of the parliamentary acumen of the new council of ministers.
In UPA-2, the RS witnessed fiery debates that gave the government anxious moments on the 2G spectrum scam, the Sharm-el-Sheikh Indo-Pak joint communiqué, the civil liability on nuclear damages bill, the right to food legislation and the bill on the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
The excruciating tussle over the Lok Pal bill entailed routing it through a select committee of the House— to which it was referred after a high-decibel, acrimonious and inconclusive debate that put on the table a large number of amendments to the draft earlier passed by the Lower House.
In his recollection of the RS proceedings during UPA-2, leader of the Oppostion Arun Jaitley noted that a “well prepared Opposition has an added advantage of embarrassing the government by confronting ministers who may be inadequately prepared.”
Shah apparently has learnt from Jaitley’s duels with the UPA. He knows the shoe could be on the other foot after May 16.