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Perception vs Reality: Opposition’s Soul-Searching Moment Post Modi Challenge

When the opportunity presented itself to put the government in the dock, the Opposition looked wholly unprepared.

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It is fortunate that parliamentary debates do not decide electoral outcomes. Because after three days of fire and brimstone, the much-hyped showdown between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Opposition over the latter’s no-confidence motion ended in a stalemate.

Technically, the Modi government won since it had the numbers. The Opposition ducked by turning its back on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unrelenting fusillade against the Congress to walk out. And as night set in, the nation was none the wiser about what all the noise was about.

If this was a battle of perception, as the Opposition had billed it, there wasn’t much to judge. Both sides pulled out the same old playbook and sang the same old song.
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Nothing New in the Face Off

Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed his formidable firepower at Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. Rahul Gandhi fumed and frothed with personal broadsides against Modi.

The crisis in Manipur, which had brought on the no-confidence motion, was but fleetingly mentioned. Modi spared five minutes and 30 seconds in his 2-hour 13-minute long address for Manipur. Rahul gave it 15 minutes and 47 seconds from his 37-minute speech. But a good portion of those 15-odd minutes went into Modi bashing and the remarks were expunged.

It would seem that politics has not moved on since 2013 when the Modi versus Rahul Gandhi clash first started defining public discourse as the BJP mounted its offensive to come to power in 2014.

Nine years later, after two decisive victories which have reduced the Congress to a mere rump of its former self, the BJP, for some inexplicable reason, appears to be stuck in the same paradigm.
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Real Issues Remain Sidelined

It is ironic that Modi and his entire team of speakers in the Lok Sabha spent inordinately disproportionate time slamming the Congress for its past sins instead of reassuring the people of Manipur, and through them, the rest of India, that their lives, women, properties and places of worship will be safe, protected by the unwritten, sacred social contract between the citizens and their rulers in a democracy.

The atmosphere was so full of negativity that even Rahul Gandhi’s flying kiss (or was it, since neither Lok Sabha TV cameras nor BJP MP Hema Malini captured the moment) was turned into a stick to beat the Congress leader with.

However, the chief takeaway from the debate was the Opposition’s abysmal failure to corner the government on Manipur. The "double-engine sarkar’’ (the Modi government at the centre and the Biren Singh-led BJP government in Imphal) was very much on the defensive for failing to douse the flames that were lit on 3 May.

A viral video depicting a brutal mob assault on two Kuki women opened a nation’s eyes to the crisis engulfing Manipur and its descent into anarchy because of administrative collapse.

Even as it stalled the Parliament for days on end demanding a statement from the PM, when the opportunity presented itself to put the government in the dock, the Opposition looked wholly unprepared.
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Where the Opposition Fell Short

A no-confidence motion is a powerful parliamentary tool to put the government of the day in the dock. The Opposition failed to weaponise it. It could have used the debate to showcase its newly minted I.N.D.I.A front by presenting an alternative vision for the country through criticism of the Modi government’s mishandling of Manipur.

It was clear as the debate got underway that the Opposition had not done its homework. Firstly, it should have realised that speakers from the BJP would get far more time than them simply because the party has more MPs in the Lok Sabha.

Secondly, there is no time limit for the PM to speak. The Opposition should have been prepared for a lengthy political harangue from Modi. That’s his style and he has done it every time he’s spoken in Parliament.

But judging from their dejected faces as the PM lit into the Congress and the I.N.D.I.A., Opposition leaders have still not decoded Modi, even after nine years of sparring with him. Their decision to walk out while he was shredding the Congress was an admission of weakness and helplessness.

A more political and experienced Opposition would have chalked out a coordinated strategy through prior consultations. It would have identified four or five issues to flag and spoken in unison to drive home its points. It would have reached a consensus on a common narrative to help set the tone and tenor of I.N.D.I.A.’s 2024 campaign.
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Most importantly, it would have come prepared for an all-out attack from Modi and armed itself with a ready strategy to counter it.

Instead, it was the BJP that seemed better prepared. Its speakers launched a coordinated onslaught on the Opposition. Union home minister Amit Shah had facts and figures at his fingertips. The Congress had no counter as he blamed them for fomenting trouble in the northeast by ignoring the region.

Much was expected from the debate especially since this was going to be the first face-off between Modi and I.N.D.I.A. before the 2024 election. It is disappointing that this round ended in a whimper as both sides resorted to trading the usual barbs and jibes.

The only silver lining of an otherwise dreary parliament session is that the Opposition’s offensive on Manipur has put the spotlight on areas that rarely figured in national consciousness and forced both the central and state governments to finally wake up and act.

(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  BJP   Opposition   Indian Parliament 

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