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Lok Sabha 2024: The Final Parliament Session Gave a Glimpse of What is on Offer

The government was at its combative best but a dispirited Opposition proved ineffective in countering the offensive.

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The countdown to the forthcoming Lok Sabha election has begun. 

A confident Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going all out to make an aggressive pitch for a third successive term while a disunited Opposition is seeking to put the ruling dispensation in the dock for discriminating against non-BJP states by denying them their rightful share of funds and taxes. 

The recently concluded budget session of Parliament — the last before votes are cast for the constitution of the 18th Lok Sabha — provided a glimpse of what is on offer in the coming days. The treasury, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was at its combative best but a dispirited Opposition proved ineffective in countering the BJP’s well-orchestrated offensive.

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Both Sides Cranked It Up

Though it failed to put up a fight in Parliament, the Opposition did manage to take the battle to the streets with Karnataka and Kerala chief ministers Siddaramaiah and Pinarayi Vijayan holding separate dharnas at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi to protest against the “fiscal injustice” meted out to the Southern states by the BJP-led Modi government.

The chief ministers essentially accused the Centre of punishing states that did not vote for the BJP. The line-up of Opposition leaders was impressive and their arguments compelling enough to elicit a strong and angry response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who accused the Congress of dividing the country by suggesting a “north-south” divide. “The language that is being spoken today, new narratives are being built out of political selfishness to break the country,” Modi fumed in the Rajya Sabha speech.

The BJP has also been equally busy outside Parliament as it went about adding to its kitty of allies and poaching disgruntled leaders from the Opposition's ranks. Janata Dal (U) and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar were back in the warm embrace of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and a partnership with the Rashtriya Lok Dal is a done deal.

Former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan is likely to join forces with the BJP while several A-listers from different Opposition parties are also expected to do the same as the election draws close.

The tone of the coming electoral race was set by President Droupadi Murmu in her address to Parliamentarians on the opening day of the session. Her speech provided a laundry list of the Modi government’s welfare programmes, hit out at the Congress, and also made a special reference to the recent consecration ceremony at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, describing it as a “defining moment” in the country’s history. 

This message was further amplified by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his two speeches in which he launched an all-out attack on the Congress and highlighted his government’s achievements with the promise to deliver greater development and an improved quality of life in his third term. That religion will be the mainstay of the BJP’s campaign was clear when the last day of the 17th Lok Sabha was set aside for a discussion on the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and ended with the adoption of a resolution, hailing it was a “historic achievement.” 

That the ruling dispensation would use the last session of Parliament to give a laudatory account of its achievements was expected. Every outgoing government uses this opportunity to list out its accomplishments. But the tirade launched by the Prime Minister against its chief political rival in his reply to the motion of thanks debate set a new benchmark in Parliamentary history. 

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White Paper vs Black Paper

Coming down heavily on the Congress, Modi used all the ammunition in his arsenal to demolish the main opposition party. He accused the opposition party of promoting one family, an issue which always resonates with the electorate, took a dig at Rahul Gandhi over his failed attempts to make a mark in politics, and ran down Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi for doubting the abilities of the Indian people. 

Continuing in the same vein, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled a White Paper in the Lok Sabha, criticising the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for mismanaging the country’s economy and indulging in corruption. Brought out a few weeks before the next Lok Sabha election, the document is one more weapon to discredit the Congress and showcase how the Modi government had stabilized the economy.

The Congress was quick to hit back. In response, it brought out a black paper, titled Das Saal, Anyay Kaal on the Modi government’s poor handling of the economy.

The paper maintained the current dispensation had failed to contain inflation or provide a sufficient number of jobs which had pushed up the unemployment rate. Former finance minister P. Chidambaram described the white paper as a ”hatchet job” and a “political exercise to damn the previous government and hide the present government’s monumental failures”.

Predictably, this war of words will not just continue but become sharper as the election campaign picks up speed. The Prime Minister’s two recent Parliamentary speeches will serve as a template for the BJP’s poll campaign whose elements include attacking the Congress and highlighting the Modi government’s achievements. But, more importantly, the forthcoming election will center around the construction of the Ram Temple and Hindu nationalism.

The Opposition will attempt to rally non-BJP states to put up a joint fight against the Centre for meting out stepmotherly treatment to them by holding back funds and taxes due to them. The North-South divide will inevitably be highlighted and saving federalism could well be the new battle cry.

The question is: which of these two narratives will resonate with voters? At the moment, the BJP is in an unassailable position. But its march to victory has the potential to hit a roadblock in the South and East if “fiscal discrimination” becomes a buzzword in the coming election.

(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist. She can be reached at @anitaakat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  BJP   Congress 

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