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The Death Of Opposition

Rattled by the Lok Sabha poll defeat, a demoralised opposition appears to have ceded all space to the ruling dispensation— both in and outside Parliament

Kaushik Deka

During parliament’s budget session, the Narendra Modi government introduced four contentious bills—the RTI (Amendment) Bill, the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which renders instant triple talaq illegal, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill. Almost all the opposition parties and some allies of the ruling BJP, such as the Janata Dal (United), raised concerns about the proposed new laws. Yet, the government has successfully steered the first three bills through both houses of Parliament and the fourth is also unlikely to face any resistance. The BJP has a brute majority in the Lok Sabha—303 in a house of 543 members. With NDA allies, the strength goes up to 335. In the Rajya Sabha, the BJP and allies have 113 seats, eight short of the majority mark of 121 in the 245-member house where four seats are vacant.

The numerical strength may have given the BJP immunity from any resistance from rivals, but what’s startling is the meek surrender by opposition parties both in and outside Parliament. Despite the ritualistic Twitter protests and some forceful statements in Parliament by the likes of Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), the house saw no coherent, united or compelling counter against the ruling dispensation on several bills. Opposition parties wanted the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill sent to a select committee for greater scrutiny, but support from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) helped the BJP avert such a motion.

Seventeen opposition parties, in a letter to vice-president and Rajya Sabha chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu, have accused the government of “hurriedly passing” legislation without parliamentary scrutiny. The letter says 60 per cent of the bills in the 14th Lok Sabha were referred to parliamentary committees. In the next one, 71 per cent of the bills went to such committees. But in the 16th Lok Sabha, when the Narendra Modi-led government came to power first, the figure dropped drastically to 26 per cent. Now, in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha, 14 bills have been passed, but not a single one was sent to a house committee.

The Congress, the main opposition party with 52 Lok Sabha members and 46 Rajya Sabha MPs, did make some noise in Parliament. But post-May 23— when Modi shot to power for a second consecutive term with a broader mandate—an existential crisis has gripped most regional parties not officially aligned with the BJP.

This is not the first but the ninth time a single party has won over 300 seats in the Lok Sabha. The Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress won 426 seats in 1984. Under Indira Gandhi, the party crossed 370 seats twice, in 1971 and 1980. Yet these central governments were kept in check by an array of strong opposition leaders, such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, George Fernandes and Chandra Shekhar. The states, too, had iconic leaders—Jyoti Basu in West Bengal, N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh, Bal Thackeray in Maharashtra and Devi Lal in Haryana.

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August 12, 2019

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