There is heightened suspense about the all-party meeting on Tuesday morning. Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose reticence at crucial times has baffled even his admirers, break his silence on the controversial arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president?
His decision to convene this meeting ahead of the Budget session of Parliament does display an out-of-box thinking. It comes at a time when the Budget session, scheduled to commence on February 23, already looks headed for a washout. The NDA government has given a host of issues on a platter to the opposition viz handling of the Pathankot terror attack and the government’s seeming diffidence on the resumption of India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level talks, imposition of President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh, alleged interventions of Central ministers leading to Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide at the Univeristy of Hyderabad, and now the JNU row.
Convening this meeting is said to be the result of an ‘out-of- box’ thinking, the one the PM has displayed right from the first day in office when he invited his Pakistani counterpart to attend the swearing-in ceremony. He displayed it again making a stopover at Lahore after making a phone call to Nawaz Sharif from Kabul.
These out-of-box initiatives have usually ended up giving the opposition an opportunity to take jibes at the government. ‘Done for optics’ is the usual charge of the opposition as the government seems to lose the plot after taking these initiatives.
It is, therefore, imperative for the PM that when he meets opposition leaders this morning, he takes all parties on board with a non partisan, statesman-like approach. There is growing disquiet among his core support base, among the students and the youth, over the NDA government’s handling of campus protests, be it at FTII in Pune, University of Hyderabad or the JNU.
While the PM has been silent, his ministers and party colleagues have not exactly helped regain the students’ confidence with their provocative statements.
The PM’s outreach to the opposition has usually been marked by simultaneous attack on them by his party or ministerial colleagues. For instance, shortly after he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi at his residence to break the parliamentary log jam on the bill enabling the roll out of the goods and services tax, there was a concerted attack on Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
On Monday, when parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu was dialling opposition leaders, BJP president Amit Shah was writing a blog to slam Rahul Gandhi for supporting “anti-national” forces on the JNU campus. He followed it up with a press conference in the evening to attack Rahul and Sonia Gandhi on this issue.
Given this backdrop, as they head for the meeting, there is scepticism in the opposition camp about the PM’s move. But, Modi is known to spring surprises.