Parliament logjam: time to build bridges with opposition
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New Delhi: It’s not just the opposition—even its allies believe the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) needs to reset its existing prickly relationship with other political parties.
Its ability to push through politically sensitive reform legislation will, to a large extent, depend on its ability to bring allies and the opposition together.
Most political parties, including members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), feel the BJP leadership needs to develop a confidence building mechanism with all political parties and deal with each political party individually.
The minority status of the BJP-led NDA with just 65 seats out of 245 in the Rajya Sabha has further increased the problems of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the government has been unable to push through key legislation which not only increases its dependence on its own allies for numbers and support, but also provides an opportunity for the opposition to question the ability of the government to deal with opposition parties.
To make matters worse for the BJP, it is the Congress which is the largest political party with 64 seats in the Rajya Sabha, making negotiations even more difficult between the two arch-rivals.
The fate of the crucial constitutional amendment bill to roll out a goods and services tax (GST) is uncertain, while the controversial land acquisition bill is still pending in the upper House after a bitter tussle over it between the government and opposition.
“There government has no relation with the opposition. The behaviour of the government is of imperiousness and arrogance. It is either their way or the highway. The effort which the treasury benches should make to set legislative agenda should be conspicuous,” said Manish Tewari, senior Congress leader and former Union minister. The recent crisis in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh has only increased the distrust.
The acrimonious relations between the government and opposition is evident from the continued tussle between Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) or JDU, the flashpoint coming during the Bihar elections.
With the Uttar Pradesh elections due in May 2017, the ruling Samajwadi Party in the state and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) may not be willing to be seen playing ball with the BJP leadership both inside and outside Parliament.
Even like-minded parties, largely favourable to the government, feel it must take steps to ensure greater interaction between the two sides.
“We want to play the role of a constructive opposition and whichever issues come up for discussion in Parliament, we keep national interest in mind,” said Bhartruhari Mahtab, senior leader of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
“We find the Union government is not reciprocative, especially when it comes to dealing with the state, which agitates us the most. The Union government has taken decisions unilaterally and we feel greater interaction with opposition will help,” Mahtab added.
With the growing challenge from opposition parties, problems between the BJP leadership and NDA partners are also rising.
While Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is upset with the Union government for not giving special status to the state, the relationship with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra remains a difficult one with Sena leaders often openly criticizing the BJP leadership. The BJP has played the dominant role since the Maharashtra assembly election in November 2014.
The BJP’s relationship with the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab is also uneasy and the coming assembly elections in March 2017 are set to make matters worse as the two are facing a 10-year anti-incumbency.
“The common demand from opposition parties and NDA partners is BJP should start confidence building measures with each party individually and there should be greater dialogue between the government and political parties across spectrum. The parties that are in alliance with the BJP continue to have an independent identity and BJP must respect it,” said a senior leader of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the ruling party in Andhra Pradesh and an alliance partner of NDA at the centre.
Political analysts say the government doesn’t necessarily have to keep the opposition happy as their interaction is limited to floor management and passage of bills in Parliament—the NDA’s bigger worry is partners who are annoyed.
“The government needs opposition parties only for passage of bills and floor management during Parliament session; so it needs to keep these parties in good humour all the time. The problem for BJP is that even allies are critical. The Shiv Sena is writing editorials in its mouthpiece, while the relationship with SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal) continues because the BJP has no option but to join hands with the regional party in Punjab.
The allies from Bihar or regional parties from Bihar that are part of the NDA are insignificant. The BJP has absolute majority in Lok Sabha, so dependence on NDA is less,” said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst associated with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.