The past three weeks have demonstrated that the Congress is still to recover from the drubbing it received in Lok Sabha elections, says Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal
The already beleaguered Congress party has failed to pack a punch as an opposition party three weeks since the budget session of Parliament began.
The party’s depleted strength in the Lok Sabha, division among the opposition parties and the demoralisation in its ranks have all contributed to a lacklustre performance by the 44-member Congress in the lower House where the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government has a comfortable majority.
While it was expected that the Congress would find it tough to take on the ruling alliance in the Lok Sabha, it could have cornered the NDA government in the Rajya Sabha where the opposition is in a majority. The Congress alone has 67 members while other like-minded parties like the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, the Left parties and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam too have a substantial presence.
Despite the numerical advantage, the Congress failed to take the lead in embarrassing the two-month-old NDA government.
The only occasion, so far, when a united opposition managed to push the government on the back foot in the Rajya Sabha was when External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj refused its demand for a discussion on the Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Swaraj’s plea that the ruling alliance did not want to take sides because India has diplomatic relations with both countries did not cut ice.
The opposition held up proceedings in the Upper House for an entire week till the government eventually accepted its demand for discussion. The NDA government was particularly embarrassed as it had first agreed to a discussion and had even listed it on the agenda papers only to back off later. The incident also revealed the fault lines within the BJP, as Sushma Swaraj was said to be miffed with her colleagues Prakash Javadekar and Arun Jaitley for listing the discussion without consulting her first.
Barring this minor hiccup, it has been smooth sailing for the NDA government. The Congress faced its first embarrassment when it raised the pitch opposing the bill removing legal hurdles in the appointment of former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chief Nripendra Misra as principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Congress stood isolated as it failed to garner support from other opposition parties except the Left parties. Its own ally, the Nationalist Congress Party also deserted it.
Instead of putting the government on the mat, the Congress found itself fending off charges from the ruling alliance following former Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju's allegation that the United Progressive Alliance government had exerted pressure on the Supreme Court collegium to appoint a judge who was suspected to be corrupt.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh was also dragged into the controversy with Katju alleging that the Prime Minister’s Office had written to the collegium on behalf of its alliance partner, the DMK, to push for the elevation of this judge.
This issue rocked Parliament for two days providing a perfect opportunity for the ruling alliance to mount an offensive against the Congress. Terming the issue as unfortunate, the BJP sought an explanation from the Congress and Manmohan Singh, stating that the UPA government had misused constitutional bodies, including the judiciary, for political reasons.
The Congress got its chance to turn the tables on the BJP after the media reported how a group of Shiv Sena MPs forced a Muslim catering supervisor at the Maharashtra Sadan to break his fast by forcing him to eat.
The incident left the BJP squirming but the Congress failed to capitalise on it. It raised the issue on two consecutive days in the Rajya Sabha but meekly accepted the government’s reply that it would get back after making enquiries about the incident.
Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha Malikarjuna Kharge attempted to play on the “differences within the BJP” when he pointed out mockingly about how Sushma Swaraj was absent from the prime minister’s entourage when he visited Brazil recently for the BRICS summit.
A consummate parliamentarian, Swaraj was quick to point out that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had attended six BRICS summits but was never accompanied by the UPA’s external affairs minister. Swaraj’s reply left the senior Congress leader visibly crestfallen.
The past three weeks have demonstrated that the Congress is still to recover from the drubbing it received in the recent Lok Sabha elections. It is also discouraged by the fact that the public mood is still in favour of the Modi government.
While it is making a half-hearted attempt to don the mantle of opposition after ten years in power, the party has not been able to get its act together. Congress members remain demoralised as there has been no attempt by party President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-president Rahul Gandhi to introspect on the reasons for their defeat and galvanise the rank and file. A senior Congress leader put it aptly, “Our party is in a comatose condition.”