House in Disarray: Cong, BJP Playing a Perception Management Game

The Congress has reworked its floor strategy and is trying hard to put the government in a spot, writes Kay Benedict

4 min read
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Congress’ Gambit

  • Suspension of 25 Congress MPs a careful yet ill-advised move by the government to push some bills
  • Congress stands to gain the most politically from the suspension as it gets an opportunity to attack the current regime
  • After allowing Rajnath and Sushma to make statements Congress soon realised that it has to rethink its floor strategy

The cat and mouse game being played out by the BJP and the Congress in Parliament could jeopardise the government’s reform agenda.

The suspension of 25 Congress Lok Sabha MPs on August 3 by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for unruly behaviour for five days may help the government transact some business till Friday without disruption, but the ill-advised move has the potential of delaying, if not derailing the Centre’s governance agenda and bolstering Opposition unity.

The Congress, which is in majority in the Rajya Sabha, has predictably hardened its stand in the Upper House holding up key legislations like the GST. The rancour can even spread to standing committees.

By suspending only Congress MPs, the chair also gave credence to the allegation that the government has been trying to divide the UPA and the Opposition. An RSP member and two TRS MPs who also held placards were spared.

A few hours before the suspension, BJP strategists managed to drive a wedge between the Congress and other Opposition parties at the all-party meeting convened to discuss ways to end the Parliament logjam with the latter wanting the House to function.

But the muzzling of dissent offered a common ground for most Opposition parties to boycott the House in solidarity with the Congress. Some of the regional satraps fear that the axe could fall on their MPs too with a “tyrannical” chair setting a harsh precedent.

The Congress has reworked its floor strategy and is trying hard to put the government in a spot, writes Kay Benedict
Congress MP Deepender Hooda with other party MPs who were suspended by the speaker. (Photo: PTI)

Suspension Boost

The suspension has come as a blessing in disguise for the Congress which was looking for a face saver. The Congress protest, which began 12 days ago, was losing sheen and may have petered out with regional parties growing fatigued and aggrieved with their inability to raise important state issues.

In the Lok Sabha, the Congress is in a hopeless minority whereas in the Upper House it has several advantages: more lung and muscle power than the BJP. Besides, it has senior and seasoned leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni, Anand Sharma, all products of the Sanjay Gandhi school of politics.

In sharp contrast, majority of the Lok Sabha members are green and from the South with little felicity in Hindi.

While Rahul Gandhi had caught the imagination of the public with his catchy “suit, boot ki sarkar” phrase during the budget session, the monsoon session has been a let a down till the suspension came as a booster dose.

The Congress has reworked its floor strategy and is trying hard to put the government in a spot, writes Kay Benedict
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge addresses the media after the suspension of 25 party MPs, August 3, 2015. (Photo courtesy: PTI)

Disconnect Within Congress

Congress leader in the Lower House, Mallikarjun Kharge, a Kannadiga and a languid soul, cannot match his cow belt, Hindi-speaking rivals in repartee or lung power, while other elders like Kamal Nath and Shashi Tharoor are disconnected with the party leadership.

So, the responsibility of disruption had fallen on 30-odd young shoulders. Every day, as soon as the House assembled at 11 am, Rahul supporters stormed the well, holding placards and shouting slogans “We want justice”, “PM break your silence”, “Fascism won’t be tolerated” et al.

The daily spectacle of bland sloganeering had become a monotonous exercise evoking little media interest. In contrast, the BJP, while in Opposition, managed daily headlines with its hard-hitting slogans coated with innovative and catchy taglines uplifting the morale of its storm troopers in the well.

Worse still, the BJP managed to cock a snook at the Congress twice when Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a statement on the recent terror attack in Gurdaspur in the Lok Sabha and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj giving herself a clean chit in Lalitgate in the Upper House. On both occasions the Congress was caught unawares.

The Congress has reworked its floor strategy and is trying hard to put the government in a spot, writes Kay Benedict
(Photo courtesy: PTI)

Rajnath’s Ploy

The BJP, which was on the backfoot following the Gurdaspur terror attack, made a virtue out of it with Rajnath Singh sneaking in the “Hindu terror” issue (a matter discussed, debated and disposed of in 2015 with Congress disowning the tag) to corner the Congress and mask the government’s failure.

Last Friday, the Congress had temporarily lifted its blockade to allow Singh to make the statement. The party fell into the trap because the BJP had mounted a psychological attack on it alleging that if the Congress did not allow the statement on terror it would be construed that the main Opposition party is not nationalist enough. The ploy worked.

On August 3, again the party was caught on the wrong foot in the Rajya Sabha when Swaraj made an impromptu statement on the IPL controversy without the chair’s permission, denying all allegations against her. An irked Congress high command pulled up its knights in the well for not being adequately alert.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)

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Topics:  Rahul Gandhi   Lalitgate   Sumitra Mahajan 

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