The monsoon session of the 17th Lok Sabha was something the Opposition might want to forget. Such was the dominance of the ruling BJP that not one thing went in the favour of either Congress or any other party in the Opposition. Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Adhir Rajan Chowdhury, left UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party red-faced when he commented on India's position on Jammu & Kashmir and if it was an internal matter or not. Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav decided to humiliate the Opposition a little more when he asked the ruling party to tell the nation to whom Pakistan Occupied Kashmir belongs.
Sentiments of several leaders were visible on Article 370. Two leaders from People's Democratic Party tore up the Constitution of India in the Lok Sabha and they were expelled from the house. This resulted in the loss of two votes. Adding insult to injury, some MPs were absent at the time of voting.
Members of Rajya Sabha resigned from the Opposition parties and joined BJP. Plus, there was difference in the opinion of individuals and their party lines. BSP party leader in Lok Sabha, Danish Ali, was removed from his position as he spoke against party lines (BSP supported the government on Article 370). Jyotiraditya Scindia jolted the Congress party when he took to Twitter and supported the government's move on Article 370.
This Lok Sabha session showcased that the Opposition was at its worst low, maybe in the history of democratic India and the ruling party seemed like a force that can't be stopped.
The largest Opposition party, Congress, with 52 members in Lok Sabha and 46 in Rajya Sabha, is undergoing a major leadership crisis. This was clearly evident in Parliament. For one, they are yet to find a replacement for former Congress President Rahul Gandhi to lead the party. Not only did Congress fail to develop the discourse but also could not produce a coherent, united and forceful counterview to The Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill, 2019 that sought to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate the state of Jammu & Kashmir into two union territories - Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.On top of it, Chowdhury's contrary viewpoint on international intervention in Kashmir further maligned Congress' reputation. Sonia Gandhi - sitting next to him in Parliament - appeared visibly upset with his remarks. He was forced to issue a statement contradicting his remarks on the floor of the house - a rare occurrence for any leader. Just a day ago, Congress Rajya Sabha MP and chief whip Bhubaneswar Kalita had resigned to protest against the party's stand on scrapping Article 370.
What transpired in the Parliament suggests that the principal Opposition party did not do its homework on such a critical issue, which has been part of the BJP's manifesto since inception.
Apart from a few forceful speeches by Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, and Mahua Mitra of Trinamool Congress (TMC), hardly any compelling narrative was presented.
Congress-led Opposition parties met with the Rajya Sabha chairperson Venkaiah Naidu to complain that BJP was not giving them enough time to read bills nor was it referring the bills to the Standing Committee of the Parliament. However, being a broken house, the Opposition parties could not get even a single bill referred to these committees.
Other opposition parties, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and even TMC had a tough time. BSP's legislative unit chief Danish Ali took a contrary stance to his party's position on Article 370. He was subsequently replaced by Jaunpur MP Shyam Singh Yadav.
During the session, SP lost three MPs out of its 13 in the upper house, whereas TMC had a controlled approach in attacking BJP. In fact, many Opposition MPs were absent when the voting to crucial bills happened, giving a leg-up to BJP's agenda. In contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had issued a diktat and made it almost impossible for ministers to skip their roster duties. As a result, 240 out of the 262 first-time MPs - mostly from BJP - got an opportunity to present their views on the floor of the house.Also Read:Article 370 to Triple Talaq: Lok Sabha passes most bills since 1952
BJP used its numbers in Rajya Sabha. In the upper house, of the 243 members, BJP already has 78; 35 are from allies, and 15 MPs are from 'friendly' Opposition parties. Now with eight vacancies created due to resignations of Sanjay Singh, Bhubaneswar Kalita, Surendra Nagar, Neeraj Shekhar and Sanjay Seth and death for Madan Lal Saini, BJP is likely to boost its numbers before the winter session.
Singh and Shekhar have already crossed over to BJP, and others are expected to do so soon. Earlier, four out of six TDP MPs and a lone INLD lawmaker crossed over; many smaller party MPs are on the radar of the BJP leadership to switch over before their term ends. These numbers will compliment BJP and its allies' 355 lawmakers, a brute majority in the 543-member lower house.
It is arguments and conviction that make an Opposition stronger, not numbers. Hopefully, the Opposition will learn a lesson and brace itself for the winter session of Parliament.