The winter session of Parliament that concluded on Friday conducted very little legislative business. Theatre upstaged substantial debate as the government and the Opposition faced off over the recall of currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a week prior to the start of the session, had pitched the demonetisation as the big fight against terror financing and black money. It was a calculated risk, with the potential to transform the economy. The nation expected the House to debate this momentous decision threadbare. It did not. The Opposition, though divided and confused over the impact of PM Modi’s radical step, preferred to stall the House than force the government to debate the policy. The onus was on the government to reach out to the Opposition and negotiate a truce to let Parliament function. It did not. When the Opposition finally agreed to an unconditional debate on the note-ban issue, it chose to disrupt House proceedings. Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani’s lament that he felt like resigning from Parliament was telling.
With Parliament in logjam, political theatre played out in streets and podiums. Prime Minister Modi said in Deesa, Gujarat that he was addressing the jan sabha because the Opposition did not allow him to speak in the Lok Sabha. The Opposition’s insistence that the Lok Sabha debated demonetisation under a rule that entailed voting was unacceptable to the government. The prime minister’s anguish is understandable, but did the BJP floor managers reach out to the Opposition to find a middleground? It reflects poorly on the government and betrays lack of propriety when the prime minister is heard explaining the rationale for policy at political rallies while remaining silent in Parliament. It could be self-defeating for the government if its best speaker, the prime minister, is reduced to a mute spectator in Parliament at a time when his economic vision and plan of action have come under attack from the Opposition. The BJP strategists must reflect whether its combative approach to the Opposition is helpful to run the House.
Towards the end of the session, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi alleged the government was running away from a debate on demonetisation because he had “personal information about prime minister’s corruption”. And that the Prime Minister was “terrified”. Parliament was in session for two days since this announcement but Gandhi has been silent. Will he now tell the party and the people to wait until the Budget session? Whatever his political strategy behind this, each day of silence dents his credibility. Gandhi should, at least, clarify what prevents him from disclosing the information he withholds — sufficient to cause a political quake, in his words — at public forums other than Parliament. Surely, the vice president of the Congress isn’t fazed by the threat of defamation? At stake, is not just his credibility but that of the Congress as well.