The battle lines have been drawn. By making it clear that it won’t crack the whip against its leaders accused of involvement in scams and graft, the ruling BJP has shown it is ready to take on the challenge from the Congress in the monsoon session of Parliament.
“There is no question of accepting an ultimatum from anybody. From where did the question of resignation arise? Nobody can dictate terms to the government. From the government’s side, no Union minister has done anything illegal or immoral," parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said on Monday, reacting to the Congress' demand for the ouster of top BJP leaders linked to scams.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a meeting of all political parties: "There are many outside forums where various issues are discussed extensively. The monsoon session is short, hence the time of Parliament should be used for debating issues which are relevant and important."
Notwithstanding Modi’s appeal and the cordial note struck by him, the monsoon session beginning on Tuesday appears headed for major turbulence as the Congess and other opposition parties – armed with adequate ammunition -- are gearing up to take on the government.
After storming to power in May last year, this is the first time the National Democratic Alliance finds itself battling a slew of corruption charges.
The Congress has upped the ante against external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje – both accused of helping IPL’s tainted former chief Lalit Modi in his efforts to obtain British travel documents – and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, whose government in Madhya Pradesh is on the back foot over a massive scandal linked to admission and recruitment tests.
Besides, Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde and Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh – two prominent faces of the BJP – are facing the heat in two separate corruption cases. There is also pressure on Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani over a controversy linked to her academic qualifications.
The BJP, however, has time and again said its leaders have done nothing wrong. "We will aggressively and effectively counter the disinformation campaign of the Congress," BJP media cell in-charge Shrikant Sharma was quoted as saying on Sunday.
Naidu's assertions after the all-party meeting on Monday sent out a clear message: Come what may, the BJP won't abandon its leaders.
The stand showed that the BJP is aware that sacking the leaders linked to scams and corruption, or even one of them, will send the message that the ruling party admits its leaders are gulity, even though they have not been booked by the authorities.
It's not that the Parliament has not seen any uproar or unruly scenes since Modi came to power – remember the ‘ghar wapsi’ debate, the force-feeding fiasco involving MPs from the Shiv Sena? The BJP, however, has so far been able to weather such storms.
But the indictment of its bigwigs could be a blow to the image of the BJP, which rode to power on the promises of a corruption-free government and economic recovery. And ahead of the crucial assembly polls in Bihar, this could be suicidal for the saffron party that is arrayed against the united Janata Parivar.
In another sign of his government's resolve, Modi said at Monday's all-party meeting that the government “should go ahead” with the controversial land acquisition bill. This came in the wake of reports that the government might not push the contentious bill during the session so that it could get the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill passed.
In brief, the BJP's strategy is clear: Don't show any sign of weakness.
Within the Congress, which is charged up and ready to pin down the ruling party, leaders are ready to latch on to anything in order to regain lost ground.
With the BJP and Congress showing no signs of backing down, a cloud hangs over the list of 11 bills handpicked by the government for Parliament's approval. And so the Indian ‘aam aadmi’ can expect for a monsoon dose of adrenaline during proceedings in battlefield Parliament.