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Renewing Parliament

A weakened opposition must hold the executive to account by raising the bar of the debate.

By: Express News Service |
May 19, 2014 12:00:41 am

After his sweeping and comprehensive victory that took the BJP to an unambiguous majority in Parliament, prime minister designate Narendra Modi has suggested that non-NDA parties may have to form an alliance of opposition. Modi is right in the sense that with these numbers, non-NDA parties will have to band together to make any minimal impact. This depletion of the opposition benches has some worrying elements. To begin with, out of 282 BJP MPs chosen from across India, there is not a single Muslim. Parties that have been seen to represent the concerns of the Muslims, lower castes and the poor have also been reduced in number. While the BJP triumph may have drawn from support across the spectrum, this Lok Sabha could be seen to be lopsided in terms of the formal  equitable representation of all identities and interests.

The decisive quality of the mandate means that the opposition MPs that remain must ensure they play a responsible role in the House, making full use of the tools available to them. This does not mean paralysis of the kind witnessed in the 15th Lok Sabha, nor is that situation possible — with the numbers at its command, the government will not need to wheedle the opposition to push its legislative agenda, and the opposition will not be able to veto bills easily. But that should lead to a renewal of parliamentary debate, not a turning away from it to express grievance and disagreement in easier and less demanding arenas such as television or on the streets.

It is crucial that the legislature performs its duty of holding the executive to account, without trying to stymie sensible initiatives. While partisanship and competition do indeed drive politics, opposition parties must not destabilise Parliament, which is the one forum to extract answers, reconcile contradictions and forge consensus. Putting away the bitterness of a polarised election, they must also cooperate with the government on areas where there is common ground and an overlapping sense of the public interest.

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