It is ironic that the Opposition in Parliament which was all fire and brimstone before the last general elections, indiscriminately challenging the government on just about everything, on occasions disregarding national interest, has now swung to the other extreme after the polls.
Shockingly, before the budget session began on Monday, the Opposition did not discuss the strategy to corner the government on key issues in defiance of the normal practice. It could hardly have been otherwise with most parties yet to decide on their leader in the Lok Sabha.
There is a sense of drift and an element of apathy pervading the Opposition benches and there seems no one to give direction, with some Opposition leaders defeated, and some others awaiting directions from their ‘high command’.
This is the very antithesis of what it should be. Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the largest Opposition party, the Congress, who called Prime Minister Modi a ‘chor’ (thief) ad nauseam during the poll campaign without a shred of evidence to support it, was out of the country on the eve of the session and is still living in denial, asserting that he does not want to continue as Congress president taking moral responsibility for the drubbing his party got in the polls.
That he returned to New Delhi on the first day to take oath for swearing-in as an MP from Wayanad may have been due to an SOS from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, in the wake of widespread criticism of his disappearance but the fact remains that the Congress has been left drifting and unprepared for the business ahead.
With the erstwhile Lok Sabha Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge defeated in the elections and Rahul Gandhi’s deputy Jyotiraditya Scindia also mauled in his traditional family bastion in Madhya Pradesh - thanks to infighting in the party, there is speculation on who would be the new leader. Would it be Rahul or a dark horse with support from him?
Shashi Tharoor has made it known that he would welcome a leadership position but it is doubtful if Sonia and Rahul would risk having the rug pulled from under Rahul’s feet. Another contender is Manish Tewari but it would hardly be surprising if Rahul appropriates that position.
There are a dozen bills waiting to be taken up in the Lok Sabha in the next few days and it would be interesting to see what kind of floor coordination the Opposition parties are able to achieve and what role Rahul plays. The key one would be the Muslim Marriage (Protection of Marriage Rights) Bill or the triple talaq bill which seeks to outlaw instant divorce. Since the NDA is still short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha it remains to be seen whether this bill passes muster or it falls through as earlier.
The opposition has not held a meeting after the election results were declared on May 23. Of the principal coordinators before the elections, Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam is down to just three members in the Lower House while Mamata Banerjee has her hands full with local problems especially the strike by junior doctors which has escalated much in the last few days but is now over. Akhilesh Yadav’s challenge, banking on the ‘mahagathbandhan’ with Mayawati fetched his party a mere five seats. On top of that the grand alliance has petered out.
Arvind Kejriwal, who had been flexing his muscles in the later stages, has gone quiet with just one seat in the Lok Sabha, from Punjab. He rants once in a while but nobody seems to listen to him.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh appears to be the lone Congress voice of reason but he is at odds with the ‘high command’ whatever be the pretensions of Sonia and Rahul to the contrary.
With the deep-rooted culture of sycophancy in the Congress party it is comical how the other UPA chief ministers - especially Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh and Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan - are striving to remain in the good books of Rahul Gandhi to secure their chief ministerial nests in the wake of demands for their ouster for various reasons particularly the drubbing they got in the Lok Sabha elections.
Their expression of faith in the leadership of Rahul despite clear signs that his leadership was an abject failure with the electorate in 2019 and earlier in 2014 when Rahul was vice-president demonstrates that it is not party interest that rules the roost but partisan individual interest. There cannot be a better Congress leadership prescription for the BJP than for Rahul to continue in office, driving the party into political oblivion.
In the absence of credible leadership in the Congress, the Opposition in general can hardly resurrect itself in the foreseeable future. The party will blunder along as Modi and the BJP grow from strength to strength.
While Chandrababu Naidu’s and Arvind Kejriwal’s ambitions to become prime minister have paled into insignificance, Mamata Banerjee, who once looked invincible is making blunder upon blunder as she totters along. Her mishandling of the junior doctors’ strike has soured the pitch further for her.
Yet, Modi will have to steer clear of arrogance and dictatorial tendencies lest he falls foul of the masses. For the Congress, it is a battle for survival which it will have to navigate with all its reserves.
The writer is a political commentator and columnist.He has authored four books.