The monsoon session of Parliament that starts Monday arguably is the Modi government’s best chance to give a decisive push to its economic reforms agenda.
The ruling NDA, even with the support of friendly parties, remains shy of the majority mark in the Rajya Sabha but the government, which completed two years in office in May, looks well-poised to overcome legislative hurdles to its contentious reforms programme.
Often steamrolled in the Lok Sabha by a numerically superior NDA, opposition parties, especially the Congress and the Left, have had their way in the Rajya Sabha where they have blocked several bills. The ruling coalition might turn the corner during the monsoon session that ends August 12.
Last month’s elections for 58 seats did not change the composition of the Upper House significantly but did create enough manoeuvring space for NDA strategists to divide (the opposition) and rule.
The difference between the Congress’ tally and that of the BJP has narrowed down to six. No prizes for guessing which of the two is better placed when it comes to fence-sitters. But, these potential allies will play hard to get as assembly elections in five states, due next year, draw closer.
That is why the monsoon session is crucial. Winter and budget sessions in December and February next year are likely to be dominated by political rhetoric and shadow-boxing with an eye on voters.
Tempers might cool down by mid-2017. By then, the NDA government will be into its fourth year and might lack the appetite for bold, but politically unpopular, moves. And, there will be Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections to think of as well.
This explains why the government is going all out to woo fence-sitters ahead of the monsoon session. It has deployed a battery of senior ministers to engage smaller parties -- Arun Jaitley for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United), Ananth Kumar and Venkaiah Naidu for southern parties, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to name a few.
Regional parties such as the SP and the BSP may be warming up for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states but those are at least six months away. The previous UPA regime gave SP chief Mulayam Singh and BSP’s Mayawati compelling reasons to support it in Parliament; the NDA government also has many.
Ruling combine’s strategists are optimistic about the constitution (122nd amendment) bill for the rollout of a nationwide goods and services tax in the monsoon session.
Kumar’s JD(U), though aligned with the Congress, is learnt to have assured support on the GST bill as it benefits Bihar. The AIADMK, a staunch opponent of the legislation aimed at bringing a single national tax on all goods and services, has come around, though with some caveats, say government sources.
NDA strategists won’t mind even a walkout by the AIADMK ahead of voting on the bill. The Left parties are not Congress’s comrades in arms on its demand for capping the GST rate within the constitution bill. No wonder there are signs of a re-think in the opposition camp.
“If there is voting on the GST bill, we have the numbers. All parties, except the Congress, are on board although they have minor concerns. But, there can’t be any voting if the Congress creates a din in the House. We get a sense that the Congress will come around in this session,” a BJP strategist told HT.
The Congress is preparing to corner the government on a host of issues, including imposition of President’s Rule in opposition-ruled states, Kashmir situation, price rise, failed bid at nuclear suppliers group membership.
Other parties might rally around the Congress on these issues, disrupting Parliament for a few days. How long the deadlock will last will also depend on the ruling party’s ability to engage the opposition and address its concerns.
A confrontationist approach might deliver political brownie points but may cost what is possibly the last real shot Prime Minister Narendra Modi has at ‘big-bang’ reforms, a term he is not particularly fond of.