Why is Prime Minister Narendra Modi adopting a conciliatory approach towards the Opposition after 18 months of coming to power? Is it tactical or is there more to it than meets the eye? No doubt that the Opposition is surprised at this change of tactics with Modi shedding his usual arrogance. Perhaps he has mellowed after BJP’s two humiliating defeats in Delhi earlier and Bihar Assembly polls this month. Whatever may be the reason, the beginning of the winter session of Parliament has been quite a contrast with the earlier sessions, which were washed away over confrontation between the government and the Opposition.
The current winter session is critical for Modi both on the economic and political front. He is losing his image as a ‘doer ’ both in India and abroad. It is a test of his political dominance and moral authority after the humiliating Bihar defeat. On the economic side, his challenge will be to push his reform agenda.
Of late, the Prime Minister has given several indications that he is for reconciliation with the Opposition, shedding his earlier majoritarian approach. The first was a conciliatory speech on the Constitution debate in the Lok Sabha when he talked about ‘consensus above majority' and also assured that there will be no tinkering of the Constitution. Secondly, for the first time since he took over, both sides displayed some thaw in the relations when he invited the Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh for tea, walking an extra mile to find a consensus over the passage of crucial Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill. Belated, though, Modi seems to have realized the need to do so.
Thirdly, Modi lavishly praised India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in his 70-minute speech on the Constitution debate in Lok Sabha and rejected the Congress charge that he was trying to deny credit to the Congress leaders like Nehru. The government even showed the draft resolution to the Congress leaders and accepted all the three changes suggested by them. Modi was also chanting the consensus mantra claiming “Democracy is strengthened when there is a consensus, which should come through a bipartisan approach. The numbers game is the last option. In this House, we are not going to force any decision but make efforts for consensus…If nothing helps, then the ultimate is majority-minority.” The conciliatory approach was also evident as he sat through the debate listening attentively unlike the previous sessions when he was rarely seen in the house.
Fourthly, by giving credit to all previous governments for having contributed to the growth and development of the country Modi wanted to reach out not only to the Congress but also to other Opposition parties which were part of the ruling coalition at the Centre at one time or the other in the past with a view to seeking their cooperation .
Fifthly, even before the Parliament session, Modi asked his Environment Minister Prakash Jhavdekar to brief the Opposition on India’s stand on the climate change meeting in Paris, a departure from his earlier style.
So why has Modi climbed down? A quick learner that he is, the Prime Minister has realized that the time for speeches is over and the time for action has come as his image is getting dented both at home and abroad and it needed some urgent damage control. A belligerent Opposition emboldened after the Bihar Assembly victory would have liked to stall the reforms and also rake up other controversial issues like the beef ban, intolerance and Dadri lynching.
On the economic side, one of the most important reform measures pending since 2007 is the Goods and Services Tax. While the BJP including Prime Minister Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister had opposed it earlier, now that he has become the Prime Minister the government is keen to push it through. Naturally, the Congress Party, the original maker of the bill does not want Modi to take credit. As the BJP is unlikely to get majority in the Rajya sabha till 2019, Modi has no other option than to climb down and make a deal with the Congress. Moreover, reaching out to the Opposition with charm offensive might blunt its attack on the government. To alley their apprehensions, he stated in the Lok Sabha that “India first” was the only religion and that the Constitution “the only holy book” for his government.
Perhaps, it is too early to predict whether the opposition will fall far for his new tactics and whether Modi will sustain this new approach. It is not going to be easy going, by the way, Parliament debated the issue of intolerance. However, it is time that the ruling party and the Opposition follow a bipartisan approach on issues of national importance. After all it is for the Government to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament and for the Opposition to give constructive cooperation. If Modi’s new strategy works out it will indeed be a welcome change as people of India are getting disenchanted with a non-functioning Parliament.
(The writer is a Senior Journalist and Columnist)
Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and views of ABP News Network Pvt Ltd.