The onset of the winter session
The winter session of Parliament commences on Monday in the backdrop of a series of significant political events, as well as in the run-up to a series of politically consequential state elections. On one hand, the government has decided to pilot the repeal of the farm laws — a key source of discord between the treasury and Opposition benches for over a year. This opens up room for cooperation. But, on the other hand, before the repeal, there was the tragedy in Lakhimpur Kheri, which will prompt the Opposition to seek the resignation of the minister of state for home, especially given the upcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh. The fact that protests haven’t ended yet, farm groups continue to make a push for legislation on minimum support price, and the future of agriculture will remain a key issue in the Punjab elections, means that there will also be political competition to come across as more sensitive to the interests of farmers.
The session will also be affected by the dynamics within the Opposition. The key political contest in India at the moment does not appear to be between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Opposition, but within the Opposition between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress on who can emerge as a more formidable challenger to the BJP. Outside the House, the Trinamool is on an expansion spree — and inside the House, it will seek to burnish its credentials by remaining belligerent against the government. This means that the incentives for the two most important Opposition blocs in the House to cooperate with the government, or even with each other, are limited; and it is likely that the session will see intense political jostling.
But all of this should not distract from the policy and legislative priorities at hand. The national security situation is grim — China remains aggressive; the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has made India’s western frontier even more vulnerable; there is renewed terror against minorities in Kashmir; and Manipur just witnessed a serious terror attack on the armed forces. The economy has delivered mixed news — there is growth, but the informal sector continues to struggle. Parliament has to deliberate on issues which are at the heart of the politics of technology, from cryptocurrencies to data protection. After two years of disrupted or aborted sessions, it is important that the winter session is used to bring Parliament back on track.