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Plain politics: Why BJP and Congress got working together in Parliament

india Updated: Aug 08, 2016 10:20 IST
DK Singh and Jayanth Jacob
Monsoon session of Parliament

File photo of Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad,and BJP Leader and Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqavi at an all-party meeting ahead of the monsoon session, at Parliament House in New Delhi.(Arvind Yadav / HT Photo )

The monsoon session is turning out to be a watershed. Not because the Rajya Sabha finally gave the nod to the bill that will pave the way for the goods and services tax (GST) and, also not because this session has seen the least disruptions in four years.

It is a watershed because the BJP, for once, is acting like the ruling party. And the Congress, for a change, is thinking beyond being the perpetual opposition party.

“Don’t think we are going to be the party that is always in opposition. We will come to power sooner or later. We cannot come in the way of a legislation that is of crucial national importance,” a senior party leader quoted Congress president Sonia Gandhi as saying on the GST bill.

Ahead of the session, the enforcement directorate had registered an FIR against former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Hooda for alleged irregularities in the allotment of land to The National Herald newspaper.

A two-way street

It was expected that the BJP would corner the Congress over the case in which Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi have been accused of misusing party funds to float shell companies and illegally gain control of assets belonging to the now-defunct National Herald.

But to everyone’s surprise the BJP and even its MP Subramanian Swamy, a Gandhi baiter who has filed the case, have been silent, so far. The BJP seems to have also forgotten the AgustaWestland scandal, which dominated the last session.

The new parliamentary affairs minister, Ananth Kumar, is often seen walking over to the Opposition benches in the Lok Sabha to have a chat or dropping in the Central Hall of Parliament to have tea with opposition leader Mallikarjun Kharge.

During an interaction recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted senior Congress leader KV Thomas to support the GST bill, saying it was the “child” of the UPA government. Thomas told Modi that the BJP’s repeated talk of “Congress-mukt Bharat” irked his party. Modi didn’t say anything but one doesn’t hear this slogan from BJP leaders any more.

A BJP floor manager conceded there was a conscious attempt not to rile the main Opposition party. “Our priority is to get the bills passed and not to score political brownies,” he said.

The realisation might have dawned a bit late but the new approach, if carried on, will help the government deliver on its promises.

Change is here

It is not just the BJP, the Congress, too, seems to have done a rethink. It was evident when the Lok Sabha discussed changes to the lokpal and lokayukta act to extend the July 31 deadline for the declaration of assets by public servants, NGO office-bearers and their spouses.

As some Trinamool Congress and Left members objected, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, too, asked party members to stand up and oppose the proposed amendments.

A colleague was quick to point out that party leader Digvijaya Singh was part of a delegation that called on the Prime Minister to demand the changes. Rahul Gandhi, who had publically berated the Manmohan Singh cabinet for an ordinance that would have helped convicted law-makers, made a quiet retreat.

A Congress leader admitted the BJP had outwitted them. When the BJP was in the opposition, it forced House washouts and went on to justify the disruptions as a parliamentary tactic.

But when the Congress sought to do the same, the BJP accused it of stalling development. “The fact is the BJP succeeded in spreading this propaganda, projecting us as anti-development,” the Congressman said.

The BJP and the Congress might have their own reasons for changing their parliamentary tactics but they seem to agree, even if by default, to give a legislative push to the agenda of governance.