For a Prime Minister who is known to put a premium on governance to further his political agenda, Narendra Modi appears to be confronted with a tough choice — between politics and governance — in the face of the raging storm over ‘Lalitgate’.
If he acts against external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and/or Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, it will be a big blow to the BJP, especially in the immediate context of the Bihar assembly polls later this year. It would mean admission of guilt and would erode the BJP’s anti-corruption plank.
It could also bring to the fore old faultlines in the party that were buried under Modi’s electoral triumph. Moreover, any action against either of the ministers would embolden the Opposition to push for more scalps like that of HRD minister Smriti Irani and Pankaja Munde in Maharashtra.
But, if the PM doesn’t act, it could imperil his governance agenda as the principal Opposition, the Congress, looks determined to disrupt the monsoon session of Parliament if Swaraj and/or Raje don’t resign.
Failure to clear the bill to introduce goods and services tax (GST) in this session of Parliament could delay its scheduled rollout from April, 2016.
Even if the government manages to get this Constitution (Amendment) Bill passed in the Winter Session, it will take several months to get it ratified by 50 per cent of state legislatures. Disruptions would also derail the government’s plan to pass the Land Acquisition Bill in the next session.
If the NDA is not seen to be swift and decisive in implementing its reforms agenda, it may create doubts in prospective investors. Absence of prompt action would also undermine Modi’s image as a decisive leader committed to clean governance.
It would be foolhardy to expect the Congress to let go of this opportunity. When in the Opposition, the BJP justified disruptions as a parliamentary “tactic” and forced the resignation of many ministers. Congress leaders gleefully talk of ‘payback time’ now.
Having publicly ruled out the resignations of Swaraj and Raje, the government may find it difficult to take action against either of them now.
The BJP may, however, may like to revisit its first successful strike at the UPA government in 2005. Forced by the Opposition to resign from the Manmohan Singh cabinet over the oil-for-food scam, Natwar Singh had made a brief statement, “I do not wish to be the excuse for the Opposition to stall the functioning of Parliament. Hence, I have decided to resign… despite the fact that I have not violated any law in letter or spirit.”
This could be one of the templates for the BJP leadership to consider in case they decide to act.
Read: Troublesome trio: BJP continues to stand by Raje, Swaraj, Irani