The day-long fast undertaken by BJP leaders to protest the disruption of Parliament had a farcical ring to it. The Budget Session that concluded on April 6 was one of the least productive in the history of Indian Parliament. But what did the BJP’s senior leadership do to end the logjam and get the House to work? BJP President and Rajya Sabha MP, Amit Shah, said that “we were ready for debate but the Opposition lacked the courage to debate”. That claim sounds unpersuasive, given that there is little evidence of the ruling party’s floor managers making the effort to engage with the Opposition benches.
The primary responsibility of ensuring the smooth functioning of Parliament lies primarily with the ruling party. The Opposition is likely to, it is within its rights to, try and use the floor of the House to inconvenience and embarrass the government. While in the Opposition during 2004-2014, the BJP frequently stalled Parliament and its senior leaders would blame it on the government’s failure to engage with the Opposition parties. What was conspicuous about the breakdown in the Budget Session was the lack of interest in the government to negotiate a breakthrough with the parties that were protesting in the House, perhaps because many of them had moved notices for no-trust motions against the government. With the numbers on its side, there was little reason for the government to fear a no-confidence motion, while a debate would have arguably given the Opposition an opportunity to question the government on issues such as the Punjab National Bank-Nirav Modi scam. Instead, the government chose to look on as Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan took the all-or-nothing stand that she would not allow proceedings unless all MPs upheld House decorum. Incidentally, the sole protesting party in the latter half of the budget session was the AIADMK, an ally of the government.
The BJP’s attempt to project itself as victim is unconvincing and it also undermines the institution of Parliament. The party’s current stance amounts to an abdication of its responsibility as the ruling party to find and forge ways, in the backroom and on the floor of the House, to help Parliament function.