Well begun is half done for the Opposition : The Tribune India

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Well begun is half done for the Opposition

The Opposition must continue to focus on its poll campaign theme, which centred on the defence of the Constitution to ensure social and economic justice.

Well begun is half done for the Opposition

Resurgence: The Opposition has re-emerged as a legitimate political force. PTI

Zoya Hasan

Professor Emerita, Centre for Political Studies, JNU

THE first session of the 18th Lok Sabha saw a charged-up Opposition using its numbers and momentum to take on the ruling BJP. The gap between the Opposition and the ruling benches in the Lok Sabha has narrowed down to 60 seats, making the House more representative of India’s pluralistic society and diverse voices and interests. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 293 MPs, not far above the majority mark of 272 in the 543-member Lok Sabha, while the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) has 234.

The role of the Opposition was reduced to mere tokenism in the last two Lok Sabhas because of the BJP’s overwhelming electoral numbers and dominance. It used its majority to delegitimise and dismiss the Opposition from Parliament, short-circuiting debate and pushing through crucial legislation without adequate discussion or consultation. The BJP has lost its outright majority for the first time in a decade this year, while the Opposition has re-emerged as a legitimate political force, offering the opportunity to hold the ruling party accountable. A strong Opposition can act as an effective restraint on the government, preventing it from transgressing its functional limits.

Data compiled by the PRS Legislative Research show that there was very little discussion in the 17th Lok Sabha; the Opposition was hardly ever heard and it was not given adequate time. It had fewer sittings compared to the previous full-term Lok Sabhas. Not only were there fewer sittings and debates, but fewer Bills were also sent to parliamentary committees for detailed scrutiny before they were passed. As many as 179 Bills were passed — 58 per cent of them within two weeks of introduction. Only 16 per cent of the Bills in the 17th Lok Sabha were referred to standing committees for greater scrutiny, compared to 7 per cent and 60 per cent in the 15th and 14th Lok Sabha (during the UPA rule).

Rahul Gandhi, in his debut as the Leader of the Opposition (LoP), mounted an aggressive critique of the NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The INDIA bloc leaders entered the Lok Sabha holding copies of the Constitution. The LoP led the MPs in waving the copies when the PM was being sworn in. The scene was repeated when Home Minister Amit Shah took oath.

PM Modi, in turn, called into question the track record of the Congress and the capability of Rahul — without ever taking his name. His more than two-hour-long speech signalled a continuity in his government’s domineering approach towards the Opposition despite the electoral setback suffered by his party. The attack was concentrated on the Congress, which was called the biggest opponent of the Constitution and accused of running a ‘fake narrative’ to mislead the public. The PM challenged the Opposition’s claim that the recent elections were fought on the issue of ‘protecting the Constitution’.

To counter this assertion, Modi launched a sharp attack on the Emergency, listing its excesses, including arrests of political activists and suspension of civil liberties. According to him, the 2024 General Election was not about the protection of the Constitution; he said Indians voted on this plank only once when they threw out the Indira Gandhi government in 1977 after the Emergency.

The Emergency was undoubtedly a ‘direct and frontal attack’ on the Constitution. The Congress was punished for it in the 1977 election by a coalition of parties which had come together with the sole objective of defeating the authoritarian excesses of the Emergency and restoring democracy.

The anti-authoritarian plank figured prominently in the recent Lok Sabha elections too. Saving the Constitution was an important electoral issue, no matter what the BJP might say today. It united 26 Opposition parties to form an alliance to counter the attacks on democracy and the Constitution, witnessed during the second term of the NDA government. This was reflected in the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act, the change in status of Jammu & Kashmir and the massive rise in hate speech and persecution of Muslims — all this was in conflict with the fundamental values envisaged by the Constitution. This agenda was taken to its extreme when the new criminal laws were steamrollered through Parliament without consultation or debate and after the suspension of over 140 MPs. Against this background, voters actively and affirmatively responded to the Opposition’s call to save the Constitution by voting against authoritarian manoeuvres. The saffron camp failed to counter the narrative that it wanted 400 seats in Parliament in order to change the Constitution.

The Opposition made its voice heard during the debate on the motion of thanks on the President’s address. This debate is noteworthy because it took place despite the combativeness of the government and its insistence to showcase continuity in terms of its power. The fact that there was a debate is encouraging. Running roughshod over Parliament and the Opposition is not that easy anymore.

The speeches of Rahul Gandhi, Mahua Moitra, Akhilesh Yadav, Bimol Akoijam, Mallikarjun Kharge, Manoj Kumar Jha, Sagarika Ghose and John Brittas — to name some of the vocal Opposition leaders who spoke — testifies to the resurgence of the Opposition. There was a stormy debate on issues such as the NEET paper leak, Manipur, unemployment, inflation, Agnipath scheme, violence against minorities and the political role of Hinduism in public life. The argument on ‘who is a Hindu’ was significant; it is likely to go down as one of the most consequential debates in India’s parliamentary history. This debate underscores the ideological differences between the government and the Opposition — advocating two very different ideas of India and arguing sharply for or against equating democracy with majoritarianism. The failure of the BJP to reach majority on its own is expected to stall the majoritarian agenda and give space for constitutional politics. However, the Opposition must continue to focus on its poll campaign theme, which centred on the defence of the Constitution to ensure social and economic justice and material improvement in the lives of people through the promotion of equality, employment, free speech and other significant rights.

#BJP #Lok Sabha

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