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Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon

July 31, 2015 10:51 IST

'The dragon is Narendra Modi. While it may be harsh -- a tad -- to say that it was sleeping, it is fair to say that the government's approach in tackling corruption cases was lackadaisical.'

'By choosing corruption as an issue the Opposition has goaded the Treasury benches to return fire -- and the BJP has more potent ammunition,' says T V R Shenoy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the media ahead of the Monsoon Session of Parliament. Photograph: Press Information BureauThe 'Amul babies' -- to borrow V S Achuthanandan's delicious phrase -- who set the course in the Congress should update their taste in fiction. They are stuck at Alice in Wonderland when they should be reading Harry Potter.

"No, no!" said the Queen at the trial of the Knave of Hearts, "Sentence first -- verdict afterwards."

"No, no!" says the Shahzada, "Resignation first -- discussion afterwards."

The folly of this has dawned on some Congressmen. Wisdom might have come sooner had they cracked open one of J K Rowling's bestsellers. They might have learned that the motto of Hogwarts School is Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus ('Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon').

The dragon is Narendra Modi. While it may be harsh -- a tad -- to say that it was sleeping, it is fair to say that the government's approach in tackling corruption cases was lackadaisical.

The Union finance minister offered the same reasons -- practically the same words -- as the Manmohan Singh regime to explain the seeming lack of progress in the black money cases, explanations that he himself had ruthlessly dissected as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

There was no attempt to speed up the investigations, and subsequent trials, in other cases, setting up fast courts if necessary. The general attitude was 'Let the law take its own course!'

The prime minister seemingly made administrative reforms, foreign policy, and the occasional enlightened legislation his priorities while tackling corruption took a back seat. We owe many thanks to the Congress for its brazenness in tickling the dragon.

The childish rush to disrupt Parliament without any strategic planning was only too apparent in the Rajya Sabha (where the Congress is the single largest party, and where it can cobble up a majority against the government if need be).

On the first day of the Monsoon Session, Anand Sharma, the Congress's deputy leader in the House, gave a notice under Rule 267 for suspension normal business so that the House could discuss the Lalit Modi-IPL imbroglio. Arun Jaitley, speaking for the government, asked for the debate to start immediately.

Caught flatfooted, the Congress changed its tack to 'Resignation first -- discussion afterwards!'

In fifty years of covering Parliament this is the first time that I have seen a party move a motion calling for a debate, then refuse to discuss anything when that motion was accepted.

The hollowness of the Congress's agitation was summed up in a single question by Arun Jaitley: 'Which provision of law has the external affairs minister violated that an investigation may be ordered?'

As to Vyapam -- a case where the Supreme Court has ordered a CBI enquiry (with the full concurrence of the government of Madhya Pradesh) -- strictly speaking Parliament is not supposed to be discussing state issues.

However, Arun Jaitley made a counter-offer to the Congress: 'If the Opposition wants the rules to be changed and state issues to be discussed, we will discuss issues of various states and we are ready for that. We will discuss so that we set a new precedent what has been happening in Kerala, in Himachal Pradesh, and in Assam...'

Unprepared once again, the only possible response by the Congress was to stall proceedings.

By Thursday, July 23, the third day of the Monsoon Session, the patience of Deputy Chairman P J Kurien seemed to be fraying.

'I am at a loss to understand why there is a futile exercise. The other day there was some notices under Rule 267 for suspension of business. Why do we suspend the business of the day? It is to discuss a subject which the House considers important. I heard both sides and I permitted the discussion, but the discussion didn't happen. Yesterday also the same thing happened. I said that there could be a discussion. The government also said that there could be a discussion. You also said you wanted the discussion. But the discussion didn't happen.'

P J Kurien is a Congressman, but you get a slightly different perspective from the Chair. He understands -- many senior Congressmen do -- that this repeated stalling of work gives the party a bad name. By choosing corruption as an issue the Opposition has goaded the Treasury benches to return fire -- and the BJP has more potent ammunition.

As a first step the prime minister asked Sushma Swaraj to table a written statement. (Oral pronouncements are bound to be lost amid sufficient din.)

Second, Narendra Modi reactivated the BJP's tested legion of spokespersons. Several -- Ravi Shankar Prasad, Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani, Rajiv Pratap Rudy -- joined the Council of Ministers, leaving relatively inexperienced newcomers. The old guard are now back.

On Wednesday, July 22, Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman fired the opening salvo, releasing details of a sting operation against Harish Rawat, Congress chief minister of Uttarakhand. This allegedly shows the chief minister's personal secretary asking the liquor mafia for bribes.

On Thursday, July 23, Union Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad followed with allegations of corruption against Virbhadra Singh, Congress chief minister of Himachal Pradesh.

The BJP even prepared a handy booklet with talking points, 'Reality and Saga of Scams in Congress-ruled States.' In addition to the aforementioned chief ministers of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, it takes on the Congress leaders in Kerala, Karnataka, and Assam too.

At one level all this smacks of schoolyard rhetoric. "You are a dirty boy!" "You are a dirtier boy!" This is not particularly edifying.

But it also exposes the inanity of trying to use (alleged!) corruption as a battering ram, and the amateurishness in not coordinating efforts with the rest of the Opposition. When he pressed for adjournment in the Lok Sabha, the Samajwadi Party's Dharmendra Yadav clarified that he wanted to discuss 'farmers' issues.'

Come to that, if the 'Amul babies' wanted to block Parliament, why did they not do over the proposed changes to the Land Acquisition Act? Or even the GST Bill?

Just as Rahul Gandhi's tactics led to his party having to defend Virbhadra Singh and Harish Rawat Congressmen found that they also had to stand by Robert Vadra.

On July 21, the first day of the Monsoon Session, Robert Vadra posted on Facebook: 'Parliament begins and so do their petty diversion political tactics... Regret to see India Led by such leaders!!'

Sonia Gandhi herself protested when the BJP's Prahlad Joshi raised the issue in the Lok Sabha. Congressmen had no choice but follow suit, and defend a 'private individual.'

Interestingly, Robert Vadra's post bears the time-stamp 11:02, when the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were perfectly peaceful as the national anthem was sung and obituary references read out.

Which begs the question: how did Robert Vadra foresee the disruption of Parliament? Or was he referring to his mother-in-law's party when referring to 'petty diversion political tactics'?

At 11:29 Robert Vadra edited his post to insert the line 'People of India are not fooled.'

This once, we may all agree with Mr Vadra.

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Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the media ahead of the Monsoon Session of Parliament. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

T V R Shenoy
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