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PM Modi's Speech is a Display of His Refusal to Accept the New Power Dynamics

It’s time to move on from mocking Rahul Gandhi and blaming the Congress for the nation’s problems.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to recognise the shift in political dynamics after the 2024 general elections is truly inexplicable.

He could have been spared a bruising start to the 18th Lok Sabha had he shed his ostrich-like approach to his flawed mandate which has left him without a majority of his own for the first time in 10 years.

As it is, his insistence that Modi 3.0 is a seamless continuum of Modi 2.0 earned him the indignity of being shouted down by a numerically stronger and energised Opposition during his first major speech in the Parliament in his third tenure.

Modi spoke for more than two hours while replying to the motion of thanks to the President’s address. And all through his lengthy address, the Opposition kept up an incessant chant of 'Save Manipur' and 'Bharat Jodo'.

It was certainly unseemly of the Opposition to mete out such treatment. No prime minister has been subject to continuous sloganeering during a major speech.

But the stage for confrontation was set when Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla decided to expunge portions of the Leader of Opposition (LoP) Rahul Gandhi’s hard-hitting speech the day before.

This is possibly the first time that an LoP’s presentation in the House has been subject to such cavalier treatment. An LoP’s words are usually given the same respect and weightage as the PM’s.

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A Fractious Start

Although both sides promised to work together through consensus, the offer seemed perfunctory, largely for public consumption. As the opening session revealed, battle lines are deeply entrenched and often personal.

It is difficult to fathom how the Parliament will run in the months ahead after such a contentious and fractious start.

Despite Modi’s lip service to democracy and the Constitution, which he said had taught him to take the LoP seriously, there is mounting concern that the 18th Lok Sabha may go the way of the 17th and the 16th.

Both saw regular disruptions, pandemonium, walkouts, and finally suspension of non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs as the Opposition was given a short shrift by a ruling party with a brute majority.

New circumstances demand fresh strategies and out-of-the-box thinking. The reality is that the composition of the Lok Sabha has changed radically in 2024. From a miniscule minority, the Opposition INDIA bloc is 234 MPs strong.

It’s not a voice that can be easily silenced. It’s also a voice that is determined to be heard and at times, bent on settling old scores as some of the speeches revealed.

TMC MP Mohua Moitra was particularly outspoken on the manner in which she was summarily expelled from the 17th Lok Sabha by a committee. She noted with gratification that most of the members of that committee lost this time.

Modi is Operating in a Changed Universe

Look across the floor and the extent of the challenge is clear. The BJP has 240 MPs, just six more than the Opposition front. Together with its coalition partners, the ruling NDA has 293 MPs. This is a thin majority by any standard.

Modi and the BJP are operating in a changed universe. It is unfortunate that they have shown little inclination to adapt, adjust, and accommodate.

This was evident in Modi’s reply. There were three strands to his speech.

  • One was a no-holds-barred attack on Rahul Gandhi and the Congress.

  • The second was his ode to a 'Viksit Bharat' of semi-conductor chips and 'Lakhpati Didis'.

  • And the third was his strong defence of the Hindu community and his positioning as its saviour in response to Rahul Gandhi’s salvo equating the BJP and RSS brand of Hinduism with violence and fear.

Ironically, these were the very same themes that drove his election campaign and lost the BJP 63 seats to bring its numbers below the required majority mark in the Lok Sabha.

Modi’s third term has got off to a rocky start. Two major exams affecting young careers, UGC-NET and NEET, were marred by scandals and leaks, leading to cancellations or postponements.

Shiny new infrastructure in the form of railway stations, airports, wide roads, and Vande Bharat trains is collapsing at a frightening pace. Even the newly consecrated Ram temple in Ayodhya developed leaks in its roof.

The latest tragedy is the death of scores of pilgrims in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras at a satsang organised by a person with a questionable record.

And, of course, Manipur continues to simmer as the newly elected Congress MP from the state, A Bimol Akoijam, reminded us in an impassioned speech at midnight.

None of these issues found a mention in Modi’s reply. There was a passing reference to the UGC-NET and NEET paper leaks but very little display of empathy for the future of young students.

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Can Modi Reinvent Himself Again?

The outline of the Opposition’s strategy in the months ahead was visible in the speeches that were made – with Rahul Gandhi leading the attack on issues raised during the INDIA bloc’s election campaign like joblessness and price rise.

To this, the Opposition has added the UGC-NET and NEET fiasco, making it abundantly clear that it intends to make the government accountable on issues that directly affect common people.

The weeks ahead will reveal what Modi and the BJP have up their sleeve, if anything, to counter the challenge from the Opposition.

Modi has displayed a remarkable capacity to reinvent himself in the face of adversity. He managed to overcome Rahul Gandhi’s 'suit-boot ki sarkar' attack in 2015 by overhauling his image to position himself as a messiah of the masses instead of the corporate-friendly persona he had created for himself as the chief minister of Gujarat.

His circumstances are different today. In 2015, he was fresh from defeating the Congress-led UPA government and still fired hopes of change and development.

In 2024, he is 10 years into the job and handicapped by a reduced mandate. It’s time to move on from mocking Rahul Gandhi and blaming the Congress for the nation’s problems. A good beginning would be to read the mandate properly and come to terms with it.

(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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