Main challenge before Congress was to be heard despite its low tally
2 min read.Updated: 14 Feb 2019, 12:01 AM ISTAnuja
In May 2014, the Congress was down to one of its lowest tallies—it won just 44 seats out of the total 543 seats
The treasury and opposition benches remained largely hostile to each other with several debates and discussions in the LS causing a political storm
NEW DELHI: The 16th Lok Sabha presented an unprecedented challenge to the Congress. Faced with a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that had come in with a brute majority, the main task before the Congress was to make its voice heard despite its low tally.
In May 2014, the Congress was down to one of its lowest tally ever, winning just 44 of the total 543 seats. Despite being the largest opposition party in the Lower House, it had less than 10% of the total seats and was denied the post of leader of opposition.
This also meant that the Congress had to deal with the challenge of facing emboldened regional parties, many of whom stepped up to take on the government. It also pitchforked party president Rahul Gandhi into a more active role, attacking the treasury benches in the Lok Sabha.
“I think, the 16th Lok Sabha for us was all about showing our mettle. At 44 MPs (members of Parliament), it was a psychological war that we managed to win especially when all the speeches were pitted against us. It tested our mental strength more than anything else," said Sushmita Dev, a first-time Congress MP.
“Initially coordination was difficult naturally because Congress was at a low tally and everyone played tough. However, it is the designs of this government which brought all the opposition parties together. It became very obvious that we all need to come together," the Congress MP said.
The treasury and opposition benches remained largely hostile to each other with several debates and discussions in the Lok Sabha causing a political storm on key issues. While the Congress over the last five years maintained that it was the responsibility of the government to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on many occasions accused its rival of causing disruptions.
A striking incident came early on during the monsoon session in 2015, where Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 25 Congress MPs for five days for repeatedly causing “grave disorder" by showing placards and wearing black bands. However, a few opposition parties then backed the Congress and decided to boycott the proceedings in solidarity.
On several occasions, other opposition parties joined the Congress in cornering the government both inside and outside Parliament. However, the loosely stitched opposition alliance remained largely splintered in the Lok Sabha with unity limited to select issues.
“The Congress party was not able to coordinate with other political parties in the Lok Sabha as much as it would have wanted to. Even within the Congress, I feel there was a lack of robust focus or in-depth research on issues. It has nothing to do with numbers in Parliament but as the key opposition party, they did not set any major narrative in the Lok Sabha," according to N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
“When a party is in opposition, it is the best time to train and groom new leaders for the long run. That was missing in Congress’s approach. No definitive team has come forward of leaders, speakers or constitutional experts in either House of Parliament," he said.
Rao said that senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, despite being denied the leader of opposition status, “rose to the occasion and proved to be an effective opposition leader" who articulated the party’s position on key issues.