Resurgent Opposition challenges Modi’s parliamentary dominance 

INDIA bloc brings fiery oratory and pointed critiques to the opening session of the 18th Lok Sabha. 

Published : Jul 03, 2024 13:57 IST - 5 MINS READ

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi speaks in the House during the ongoing Parliament session, in New Delhi on July 1.

Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi speaks in the House during the ongoing Parliament session, in New Delhi on July 1. | Photo Credit: (ANI Photo/Sansad TV)

The opening session of parliament, which concluded on July 3, saw a resurgent Opposition for the first time in over a decade. The INDIA bloc partners seized every opportunity to challenge the Narendra Modi-led NDA government. While Prime Minister Modi’s first two terms enjoyed a relatively free run in Parliament due to a weak and subdued Opposition, political observers believe this is no longer the case. Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra likened the previous scenario to “a first-century Colosseum in Rome” where a gladiator, the prime minister, enters amid chants of “Modi, Modi”.

The country “desperately” needed a strong opposition, notes Manindra Nath Thakur, Associate Professor at JNU’s Centre for Political Studies. “The Opposition will certainly restrain the ruling party, which had almost become authoritarian. Given the complex caste, community, and other social structures, it isn’t possible for one party to articulate all the divergent interests,” adds Thakur. “In a healthy democracy, a strong opposition is as important as the party in power.”

The first session of the 18th Lok Sabha, which began on June 24, saw Opposition leaders leveraging their oratory skills, using barbs, wit, and sarcasm against the NDA government and Modi. In many ways, the session continued the Opposition’s electoral campaign, pledging to protect the constitution and ensure social and economic justice.

Several of Modi’s past remarks came back to haunt him. In a scathing attack, Leader of Opposition Rahul Gandhi, mocked Modi’s claim of a “divine connection”. When Speaker Om Birla intervened, Rahul pointed out he was merely referencing Modi’s own words from a TV interview in Varanasi, where Modi had stated, “God has sent me...I am convinced I am not born biologically”.

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During the election campaign, Modi had controversially accused the Congress and its allies of performing “mujra” (pandering) for vote banks. When Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge recalled these remarks in the Rajya Sabha, chairman Jagdeep Dhankar intervened, describing the comments as derogatory. Kharge promptly reminded him, “These are the words of the Prime Minister”.

On June 6, Moitra, who faced a controversial expulsion in 2023, seized an opportunity to challenge Modi. As the PM was leaving the lower house just as she began to speak: “You came to my constituency twice during the campaign, sir. At least listen to me today... don’t be afraid.”

While ruling party MPs, including PM Modi and his cabinet colleagues, attempted to corner Rahul on certain issues, he appeared much more confident in his role as Leader of Opposition compared to his previous term as MP. Amid uproar from the treasury bench, he defiantly declared: “We are going to defeat you in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly election.”

Rahul consistently called out what he perceived as the Chair’s bias towards Opposition leaders. In his speech, he noted that soon after Om Birla’s election as Speaker, Birla bowed to Modi while shaking hands with him, whereas Birla stood straight while shaking hands with Rahul on the same occasion.

Gandhi also pointed out that parts of his speech on minorities, attacks on the constitution, the Agniveer scheme, and the NEET row were expunged from Parliament’s records. He highlighted how Sansad TV’s camera shifts focus away from him and microphones are switched off whenever he criticises the government.

In his reply to the Motion of Thanks for the President’s address on July 2, Modi criticised Rahul for “balak buddhi” (childish mentality). He attempted to dismiss Opposition criticism as a sign of not accepting the reality of BJP’s hat-trick victory by enacting a scene from the film Sholay between characters Mausi (Leela Mishra) and Jai (Amitabh Bachchan).

However, the Opposition was notably more aggressive this time.

Political observers highlight a visible change in parliament. Senior journalist Abhay Kumar Dubey says: “Now the Opposition has been vociferous in raising people’s issues and has rattled the government. The government is clearly on the back foot, acting defensively.” He adds that the new coalition government, not yet a month old, has already provided the Opposition with several issues to challenge. Referring to the Manipur crisis, increased militancy-related violence in Kashmir, NEET, UGC exam paper leaks, recent infrastructure damage due to rains, and a recent rail crash, he observes: “The government’s incompetence has been exposed. It’s a victim of governance deficit.”

According to Dubey, the balance between the ruling party and Opposition had become lopsided in the past ten years. “Only the ruling party was pushing its narrative. The situation has now completely changed. What’s happening inside Parliament will certainly resonate outside. This will soon impact the overall politics in the country,” Dubey adds, noting that the government is struggling to stem the anti-incumbency sentiment that cost it dearly in the recent general election.

The Opposition camp now boasts numerous fiery orators.

Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi, the newly-elected National Conference MP from Srinagar, addressed the Speaker, expressing hope that no Muslim MP would be labelled a terrorist. He referenced former BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri, who used abusive language against MP Danish Ali on the Lok Sabha floor in September 2023 without facing consequences.

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Mehdi spoke about the importance of respecting elected representatives, noting that 146 MPs from both houses were suspended in 2023. He urged the Speaker to uphold constitutional values and hoped that bills like the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status would not be rushed through without proper discussion.

Similarly, Akhilesh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party (SP) chief, invoked the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency, which includes Ayodhya, during the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address. Mocking the BJP’s failure to secure a majority, he said: “What Lord Ram wills, it happens, we have heard...Those who claimed they have brought someone now depend on others’ support.”

With the session’s conclusion, it is clear that the Opposition has found a stronger voice after many years of BJP dominance. With a single-party majority eluding the BJP, upcoming Parliament sessions are likely to be both eventful and stormy. The government may need to reconsider its strategy for negotiating with non-NDA parties to ensure smooth operation of its legislative agenda.

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