Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Mar 10, 2016
Days of pussyfooting over

The playbook appears to have changed. In Parliament, there is a decisive shift in the treasury bench strategy. The BJP and PM Modi appear to have changed tack after HRD Minister Smriti Irani's filibustering in Parliament. The BJP was playing a half hearted game at rapprochement and reconciliation in the run up to the budget session, just as they had done prior to earlier disrupted sessions. Knowing fully well that the Congress and other opposition parties would try and make political capital over the Rohit Vermulu and JNU issues, the BJP and its Prime Minister altered their plans. The opposition may be baying for Irani's blood citing her half truths and lies, but no one can deny that her bellicose performance was a tour de force. It is not often that you see a speech in both Hindi and English which on the surface appeared well reasoned and well argued, halting the opposition in its tracks with its ferocity. The balance of power shifted in those 15-20 minutes. And somewhere in that quarter of an hour, the BJP strategists chose to make a statement through this speech. An all-out offensive was launched almost in parallel.

Two newspapers with known right wing affiliations ran stories on former finance minister P Chidamabaram's son Karti's humungous business empire sprawling multiple nations. More or less on cue, former home secretary Gopal Pillai opened a pandora's box saying that there were two affidavits in the Ishrat Jehan case and accused former home minister Chidambaram of interference. Again media was smartly used by the BJP and known affiliates of the ruling party in the telly news universe went berserk. One thing led to another and both news items became part of the societal narrative. The target was P Chidambaram. Suddenly the AIADMK also swung into action by reminding Parliament and India of P Chidambaram's role in the 2G spectrum scam and furthermore his role in the Aircel Maxis case. AIADMK MPs gathered in the well of the House and raised Cain over Chidambaram. Since it suited Amma to denigrate her political opponents -- Maran brothers and Chidambaram -- the whirligig carried on.

Overnight the discourse was altered, Ishrat Jehan, Aircel-Maxis and Karti Chidambaram's business baubles became the new narrative. MP after MP got up and railed against Chidambaram and his son -- from Bhartruhuri Mahtab of the BJD to T G Venkatesh of the AIADMK and finally BJP's Kirit Somaiya spoke like clockwork throwing into stark relief Chidambaram’s alleged shenanigans. The BJD and AIADMK made the point that that there was a deliberate go slow on the investigation. Actually, Chidamabaram opened the door for these attacks given that he gave two interviews to dailies of the same publishing house a day prior to the release of his book, in fact a compilation of articles masquerading as a book. It was - aa bail mujhe mar - as the BJP hit back with great tact.  Finally even the 2G spectrum scam and Chikitsa Ambulance scam in Rajasthan resurfaced. The door lay ajar after Chidambaram’s interview where he questioned Afzal Guru's hanging (there are doubts over Guru's role in the parliament attack) and since then the onslaught and fusillade has been unrelenting.

The BJP and PM Modi have finally after about 21 months understood that bringing the Congress on board isn't going to work, and it is better to behave like a government in control rather than one careening out of control to tackle a fickle opposition. Suffering indignities due to the tyranny of numbers in the upper house and weighed down by being unable to pass legislation over which they were obsessing, the BJP appears to have recalibrated its approach to politics. Yes passing bills is obviously important but equally striking out at the opposition to tell them who is the boss is also vital. In this changed environment, where even the PM using  a style replete with sardonic banter launched into the Congress over its dilatory tactics on Thursday, the BJP has re-evaluated its position of dominance. Using Nehru, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in his speech, the PM was acerbic and sarcastic. While he appeared ostensibly reaching out to the Congress with the quotes of three Congress icons, he actually used them to admonish the Congress, telling them indignantly of their duty towards parliamentary democracy.

This reassessment resulting in all round belligerence is at one level a positive, after taking a hard left turn in the budget where the journey from suit boot to barefoot was swift and systematic. Somewhere party managers have rejigged their calculus and instead of imperatives of  wasting time using ordinances and obsessing over legislation, the PM and BJP have decided to be more provocative by bringing government instrumentalities to bear. The pendulum seems to have shifted. From a government pushed into a cup de sac, it appears combative and more in control. Call it authoritarian, but so what, as long as it gets the job done within the four walls of democratic tenets, there is no harm. Governments in the past have unleashed state instruments to control opposition parties.

Another interesting stratagem is the plan to shore up numbers in the Rajya Sabha. As many as 13 seats go to the polls as part of the biennial elections on March 21 and more importantly, the BJP can now nominate as many as 7 new members shortly (five to retire on March 21). The dynamics of the RS are such that the BJP is behind the eight ball. NDA has 67 seats, UPA 78 and others including independents are 87. Ten are nominated. The nominated seven can be added straight to the NDA kitty increasing the tally to 74. Of the 13, BJP and SAD have two each at the moment.  It seems that the days of pussy footing around are over as the BJP takes a more dominant line in polity.

The author is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi.

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