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Let Modi improve Parliament by helping the Opposition oppose

During the first decade of Parliament, opposition MPs used to implore Nehru to do more to get the Opposition to be effective. Maybe Narendra Modi should do more to help the Opposition survive.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: July 7, 2019 7:31:02 am
rahul gandhi, Rahul gandhi resination, rahul gandhi congress president, cwc, sonia gandhi, narendra modi, BJP, Congress, express column Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sumitra Mahajan and Rahul Gandhi. Express photo: Anil Sharma/File)

I am still getting emails from Jet Airways about the rewards awaiting me for my loyalty. The firm has gone bust but the emails go on. This is like the Congress party. Rahul Gandhi has resigned as president and said he will not change his mind. But his party has taken its time to recognise this. The Congress goes on living in a limbo, between death and life.

Look across to the UK where a party older than even the Congress has just conducted elections to choose the next leader, having asked the incumbent to resign. There is a process for the MPs to vote to narrow the list of candidates down to two and then the two face the decision of party members in a secret ballot. Democracy is not rocket science.

But the Congress hates democracy, at least within its ranks. There has not been a seriously contested election in the Congress since 1950, when Purushottam Das Tandon became president. Jawaharlal Nehru quickly corrected such show of members’ power and had Tandon removed. This repeated the way Mahatma Gandhi had treated Subhas Chandra Bose’s audacity of being elected against his wish. Tandon’s election was an aberration. Since then the Prime Minister or the leader of the Congress parliamentary party has been the de facto chief.

So a search is on for a face to replace Rahul. The CWC will no doubt find a person older than Rahul and more hopeless at winning elections. Otherwise, Rahul will be shown up. Who needs Modi? The Congress will deliver Congress Mukt Bharat itself.

Other opposition parties are copying the Congress. Mamata Banerjee has her nephew as successor. So has Mayawati selected a nephew. So we can abandon any hope of revival in the Trinamool Congress and BSP. The two Yadav parties, the SP and RJD, are stuck because the son has done worse than the father and the grandsons are not old enough. Chandrababu Naidu was the son-in-law of NTR. He has failed but found no one to pass on his political assets to. Y S R Jagan Mohan Reddy and Stalin have saved their family heirlooms, but for how long?

None of these people became a leader by winning an inner party election. Democracy is for the plebs. The netas do not believe in it for themselves. Hence, the Opposition will remain small and divided.

But a well-functioning democracy needs an effective Opposition. During the first decade of Parliament, opposition MPs used to implore Nehru to do more to get the Opposition to be effective. Maybe Narendra Modi should do more to help the Opposition survive. Who else is there?

Let me propose two changes. One big, one small.

The first is to amend the Representation of the People Act. It is obsolete and anti-Parliament. It requires every candidate in the election to swear faith in socialism, which violates the fundamental right of Freedom of Expression. It gags backbench MPs, forbidding them from expressing independent opinion. They are puppets of the Whip. They are only good for rushing to the well, discrediting Parliament.

In the House of Commons every week, there is a one-hour slot for Prime Minister’s Questions. It allows opposition members to show their ability at asking searching questions to the Prime Minister. The Lok Sabha could adopt that practice. Let Modi improve Parliament by helping the Opposition oppose.

This article first appeared in the print edition on July 7, 2019 under the title ‘Out of my mind: Let Modi help Opposition oppose.’  

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