The Narendra Modi-led government is set to wrap up the first part of Parliament’s budget session on a high on Wednesday, salvaging a session that many feared would be a washout and passing key legislation that will touch the lives of millions.
In the 17 days that Parliament worked before breaking out for a recess on Wednesday, the government managed to get a bunch of key legislation through, most of it pending for several years.
This was no mean feat in a session that started under the shadow of a renewed intolerance debate following Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Kanhaiya Kumar.
The bill to set up a real estate regulator to protect homebuyers from unscrupulous builders had been in the works for nearly a decade.
The Aadhaar bill, on the other hand, was drafted by the previous UPA government in 2011 but the coalition threw its hands up in despair when a parliamentary panel rejected its version.
Besides, Parliament also passed laws to develop 106 rivers across India into transport waterways and higher compensation to air travellers.
“Of all the sessions of Parliament that we have had since our assumption of office in May 2014, this budget session has been the most significant and rewarding on several counts,” an elated parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu later told reporters.
The minister hinted that public opinion had played a role. “Public was getting restive over the functioning of the highest legislature of the land. I am sure this has impact on the conduct of the concerned parties which ultimately is resulting into the smooth running of the house,” he said.
So what really worked? At first glance, it appears a realistic assessment of the pending legislation and some ingenuity did the trick with a campaign projecting the Congress as obstructionist clicking.
Rather than pitch market-friendly big-ticket legislation on which there was no consensus, the government figured it made sense to get legislation out of the way that even the Opposition would find difficult to oppose.
Real estate bill – the ploy that worked
The real estate bill is a prime example. The panel of MPs tasked to study the bill by the Rajya Sabha had given its recommendations but the government wasn’t so sure if the Congress would play ball, or stall the bill on one excuse or another.
So rather than just persuade the Congress, the government let the associations of homebuyers do the talking. A meeting between representatives of these associations and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, sources said, did the trick. Gandhi promised them the Congress’s support, particularly since the government had accepted the recommendations of the Rajya Sabha select committee set up on the opposition party’s insistence.
Aadhaar – some ingenuity
The government figured the Aadhaar bill was going to be a different ball game altogether.
There have been privacy concerns about the bill all along, and the BJP had stalled a similar bill on one pretext or the other when the UPA proposed it. It was payback time for the Congress.
But bureaucratic ingenuity bailed the government out.
One of the eight panel of officers set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suggest do-able targets for the government – and show the way too – recommended converting the pending Aadhaar bill into a money bill.
A money bill is not dependent on support from the Rajya Sabha where the ruling alliance is in a minority. This meant once the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha, it was as good as a done deal.
Congress didn’t want to be seen as obstructionist
A series of blistering attacks on the Congress helped put pressure on the party that ran the risk of being seen as obstructionist, rather than standing up to the government on issues that make a difference to people.
Congress leaders said there was no change in their tactics as the party never disrupted the sessions deliberately and whenever it did, the provocation came from the government.
But many leaders did argue in internal meetings that the party should try to corner the government on issues through debates and only stall those legislation that are not in public interest.