The two speeches were more or less simultaneous, one in either House. Rahul Gandhi was aggressive in the Lok Sabha while Narendra Modi looked uncharacteristically subdued in the Rajya Sabha. Known to be a sharp, often polarising orator, one who rains heavy blows on the Opposition, the PM was for once not provoking his opponents.
At least three distinct elements seemed to be at play, all forcing Modi to present himself as a new political personality so far out of tune with this government’s character.
One was the shadow of the Bihar verdict, the impact of an electoral rebuff in a crucially large, Hindi-speaking state. It was as if a reality was sinking in — that he was in the Rajya Sabha, crucial for getting bills passed and not someplace where the BJP is set to get a majority anytime soon.
Till the last session, the government had aggressively played up the “time wasted” because of the Opposition’s demand for the resignation of Union minister Sushma Swaraj and two BJP CMs. This time, there seemed to be a realisation that a nonfunctional House does not hurt the Opposition as much as it hurts the government. The need to run the House, even if unpleasant things have to be heard from the Opposition, was clearly felt when the PM desisted from replying to the Opposition’s swipes at the BJP or the RSS.
Modi seemed keen to step out of the “campaign mode” he has been accused of being in. Recent comments by foreign investors and rating agencies, asking if the majority government has it in itself to pass basic and crucial legislation, appear to have impacted the Centre’s resolve to somehow run the House and carry the Opposition along. The economy not being in great shape also means the Centre is on the defensive.
Amid questions on a fraying social fabric, economists, businessmen and even the RBI governor have linked the government response to these with economic well-being and “good governance”. As such, the BJP could not afford to be seen as short-changing demands for a debate on intolerance. And the PM had to take the lead.
Also, the President has been speaking continuously on these issues and his latest comments from Gujarat Tuesday on the importance of delivering to the last man on the block, and the importance of absorbing not just symbols but the spirit of those symbols, gave the government another reason to appear conciliatory.
On the other side, as was evident in Rahul’s aggressive speech, the Congress — now with 45 members after having won a Lok Sabha bypoll on top of its first assembly victory during this regime — is happy to attack from the front. Currently, as far as the entire Opposition is concerned, to punch well above their numerical weight in the Lok Sabha is clearly the objective, which Rahul’s speeches and others over Monday and Tuesday have met.