A small Opposition does not mean a weak one

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A small Opposition does not mean a weak one

Wednesday, 24 June 2020 | Kalyani Shankar

The weakening of the Opp in the RS should not be a drawback because it is not the numbers which matter but the effectiveness of the arguments

When the Rajya Sabha reassembles for the Monsoon Session, it will be with new equations owing to the change in the composition of the House. It will see a shrunken Opposition and a stronger National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The BJP is inching towards a majority after this week’s biennial polls to the Upper House. The NDA has crossed the 100 mark though it may take a while to reach the magic number of 123 for a majority in the House of 245. The BJP alone has 86 seats, a vast improvement from its 2014 tally of just 43 members. Over the next four years till March 2024, over a 100 MPs are retiring and the BJP is likely to improve its numbers further. Elections will be held, eight each in 2021 and 2023, 77 in 2022 and four in 2024 before the Lok Sabha polls.

 No doubt, the Narendra Modi Government suffered a setback due to the commanding majority of the Congress-led Opposition in 2014 in the Rajya Sabha. At that time, the Congress alone had 68 seats and the total strength of the NDA was 59. For legislations like the Triple Talaq, the Land Bill and the Insurance Bill, the Modi Government had to adopt the Ordinance route after its failure to get them passed in the Rajya Sabha. But the table has turned today.  The Opposition is slowly shrinking and has a total of 65 seats and the Congress has been reduced to 41 members.

In this week’s biennial polls, altogether 61 seats were filled with 43 first-timers who had been elected and 12 members who had sought re-election. The BJP won 17, a couple of seats more than its strength, due to cross-voting. The Congress got nine, the Janata Dal (United) three, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) four each, the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) three each, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) got two each. 

Interestingly, the House now has some heavyweights like former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, former Congress Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and former Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren. Two other former Chief Ministers, Sharad Pawar and Digvijay Singh, have returned, too. 

So what does it mean politically? The ascendancy of the BJP in the House of Elders would result in more political leverage for the party. First of all, it enables the Modi Government to go ahead with the much-needed reforms and Bills in both the Houses of Parliament.

Earlier, the Opposition blocked a number of measures though in Modi 2.0, the BJP was able to push through most of its core agenda, including the repeal of Article 370 and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This was possible because of a divided Opposition, which the Modi Government took advantage of and also managed to mobilise the support of some neutral parties like the BJD and the TRS.  Now, the NDA Government is unlikely to face any challenge in pushing through its legislative agenda.

It is sweet revenge for the BJP that it has overtaken the Congress, reaching almost twice the number, 86. This shows that the saffron party has also achieved an impressive surge in the Rajya Sabha.

The Opposition has had an upper hand for 39 of the 68 years but this will change now. Just as the BJP brought back the single party majority in 2014 after three decades, this too, will be seen as a feather in its cap.

For the Opposition, which is already weak, this would mean a complete setback in both the Houses. Earlier, it had the advantage in the Rajya Sabha but now there is a danger that the Government could flex its muscles and take unilateral decisions.

Also the Opposition has a leadership vacuum, is not united and has no joint floor strategy. The fact remains that only a vigilant and united Opposition can hold the Government accountable. The weakening of the Opposition in the Upper House should not be a drawback because it is not the numbers which matter but the effectiveness of the arguments in the House. It is the duty of the Opposition to uphold the tenets of democracy and ensure that the Government does its job well. 

There are many important issues facing the country right now like the handling of the pandemic, the Chinese skirmishes, the face-off with Nepal, the ailing economy and so on. The veterans that are there in the Rajya Sabha must take these issues up strongly. Did not a handful of Opposition leaders expose the Bofors scandal during the Rajiv Gandhi era when he had 415 members in the Lok Sabha?  In fact, the invaluable experience of heavyweights like Gowda, Pawar and Manmohan Singh would come in handy.

On the whole it is for the Opposition to be vigilant and for the Government to avoid unilateral decisions to safeguard democracy. 

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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