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Are opposition parties headed for a self-goal in Parliament?

Author: DK Singh
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date: December 5, 2016
URL:   http://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/are-opposition-parties-headed-for-a-self-goal-in-parliament/story-Vy1B7LKXgyWQMRdjP57tkO.html

There could be an element of truth in parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar’s assertion that the opposition parties are shifting goalposts to disrupt Parliament.

The two Houses were not allowed to function for the 13th consecutive day last Friday.

The opposition started a debate on demonetisation in the Rajya Sabha at the start of the winter session, but took the disruption route the very next day. Their varied demands crop up after intervals — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence, his response to the debate, his apology for allegedly calling opposition parties supporters of black money, probe by a joint parliamentary committee, and discussion in the Lok Sabha under a motion that entails voting. It’s debatable which of these demands, if met, will bring immediate succour to the people.

Congress leaders offer different versions of their parliamentary tactics. One version describes it as an after-thought on the part of the Congress leadership — to not allow West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to take a lead role in opposing the government. Another pins the blame on a Floor leader in the Rajya Sabha who unilaterally agreed to the government’s offer of a debate at a meeting with the presiding officer of the House.

The Congress has since taken the lead in stalling Parliament proceedings. So much has been its commitment to demonetisation victims — real or imagined — that the party let the government off the hook for a train accident that claimed 147 lives last month.

The opposition party didn’t go beyond perfunctory statements on the killing of seven officers and jawans in a terrorist attack on the Nagrota army camp on the outskirts of Jammu on November 29, exactly two months after the much-hyped surgical strikes on terror launch pads across the de facto border in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in retaliation if a terror attack on Uri army base.

Asked about the impact of the surgical strikes in the context of the Nagrota attack at the HT Leadership Summit on Friday, defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s reply was quixotic: “It introduced a degree of uncertainty (across the border).” Really! It’s a courageous stand post-Nagrota and incidents of mutilation of jawans’ bodies. The Congress and other opposition parties, however, don’t seem inclined to question the government on these issues.

However sanctimonious and outraged NDA ministers might sound in their criticism of the opposition over its disruptive tactics, BJP strategists are gloating. So must Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu. A senior minister drew an analogy between the dilemma of the Congress in Parliament and that of a horse-riding, sword-wielding warrior without scabbard and stirrups.

Where does the Congress go from here? It can keep disrupting Parliament till the last day of the winter session on December 16, a strategy that the NDA might not mind. After the ruling side conceded to the opposition’s demand for Modi’s intervention in the debate, the opposition’s justification for continuing the disruptions does not hold much water.

Their current strategy of disruption — instead of exposing what former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called monumental mismanagement post-demonetisation — might not earn them many political brownies from the already harried people standing in queues.
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