The last full-fledged Parliament session of the Modi government commencing on 11 December promises to be a tumultuous affair as a united Opposition prepares to confront the ruling alliance with an eye on next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
The outcome of the five state Assembly polls, which are coincidentally to be declared on the opening day of the winter session, will set the mood for this face-off between the rival political camps.
For the record, the all-party meetings called by the government and Rajya Sabha chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday, 10 December will follow a familiar trajectory. The Opposition parties will reiterate that they have no intention of disrupting proceedings but are only seeking accountability from the government. On its part, the Centre will point to the heavy legislative agenda and hope for the Opposition’s cooperation in the passage of key Bills.
Niceties apart, an energised Opposition will be encouraged to up the ante against the Modi government if the Congress succeeds in dethroning the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In fact, the session could well be an extension of the bitter and personalised campaign witnessed during these elections.
Assembly Poll Results Vs Polarising Politics
However, the Opposition, especially the Congress, will find itself in a quandary if the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance responds by following up on the saffron party’s polarising rhetoric by raising the Ram temple issue.
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The massive public meeting organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Delhi on Sunday, 9 December to build pressure on the Centre to bring a legislation for the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya suggests that the orchestrated campaign is aimed at whipping up religious passions in the run-up to next year’s General Election. The BJP has, so far, stayed away from the latest edition of the Ram Temple movement and has instead left it to its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its frontal organisations like the VHP to raise the pitch on this issue. The recent string of such meetings are meant to help the BJP understand if Ram Temple will resonate with the people as seen in the early nineties and, at the same time, deflect attention from the Modi government’s failures.
The Opposition has studiously maintained that it will abide by the judicial verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi issue, currently pending in the Supreme Court. But the Congress will find itself in a tough spot as its party president Rahul Gandhi has made strenuous efforts over the past few months to reach out to the majority Hindu community and shed the pro-minority tag with his very public visits to temples and a declaration that he is a Shiv Bhakt which was followed by a pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar.
In this backdrop, it will be difficult for the Congress to reject the government’s move for the construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya.
Triple Talaq and Women’s Reservation Bill to be Pressure Points
The Congress had found itself in a similar dilemma on the triple talaq Bill. The Modi government will make a renewed attempt for the passage of the Bill currently pending in the Rajya Sabha. The Centre had promulgated an ordinance making the utterance of talaq three times by Muslim men a penal offence. With the Opposition parties insisting that the Bill be referred to a Parliamentary committee for greater scrutiny, the government has hit out at the Congress for appeasing the Muslim clergy and being anti-women.
In an attempt to pre-empt this charge, Rahul Gandhi on Sunday, 9 December wrote a letter to the chief ministers of states where the party is in power, to pass a resolution favouring the reservation of 33 per cent seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies. This is a replay of what happened before the budget session earlier this year. The Congress president had then written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to expedite the passage of the women’s reservation bill.
Well aware that it cannot match the BJP’s belligerence on emotive and religious matters, the Congress and the other Opposition parties’ aim is to keep the focus on the Modi government’s failures to deliver on its promises and its poor track record on governance. Agrarian distress, rising unemployment, the ill-effects of demonetisation, the Rafale aircraft deal, the government’s face off with the Reserve Bank of India and the controversy in the Central Bureau of Investigation figure prominently on the Opposition’s list of priorities for this session. The BJP will hit back at the Congress party’s first family by pointing to the impending revelations by middleman Christian Michel in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal and the tightening noose around Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, in a land scam.
The Opposition parties will fine-tune their floor strategy when its leaders meet here on Monday, 10 December. The meeting, being coordinated by Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu, has been called essentially to chalk out plans for the formation of an anti-BJP alliance in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. But since it is being held on the eve of the winter session of Parliament, the discussions will also focus on how best they can work together to corner the Modi government. It will be important for the Opposition to be seen as a cohesive group if it is to convince the electorate that they can set aside their differences and put up a united show.
(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist who 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.)