As Parliament heads for an important session in which the government expects to clear critical legislation, the Congress has formed seven shadow ministries to follow the NDA, in and outside the House. Earlier, in September, the party had imported the shadow cabinet concept, launched Twitter handles, but it couldn’t really grasp social media. The 15 Twitter handles, representing as many shadow ministries, have tweeted only 325 times. The shadows of the ministries of home, transport and women and child development have been determinedly silent.
Abandoning this picturesquely derelict electronic project, the Congress now favours flesh and blood shadow ministries. Actually, the Madhya Pradesh unit had led with the idea in May, when the leader of the opposition, Satyadev Katare, tasked 31 MLAs to track ministries of the state government and give it a hard time in debates in the House. Certainly, such a device is urgently needed at the Centre where, after decades, the political discourse is again swamped by a single dominant party. There is no leader of the opposition, a situation reminiscent of the 1950s and the 1960s, when the Congress was all-powerful. It is now lost in the wilderness as the BJP tries to take its place in the voter’s imagination. At this time of transition, the shadow system would help to prevent parliamentary debate from degenerating into the monologue of the numerical majority.
However, a shadow system would be merely entertaining rather than useful if it were adversarial. There is an opportunity here to rise above partisan politics and develop a counter-narrative to the story being scripted by the NDA government. It was expected to be a growth story, but it has been diverted by numerous sub-plots — sanitation and hygiene, black money, monumental statuary and so on. There is also an echoing silence on increasing episodes of communal violence. For starters, the Congress would do well to ask how and why recovering black money is no longer pre-eminent among the government’s many imperatives. But to be truly effective, shadow cabinets should not remain confined to the House, but should rather plug into traditional and social media to disseminate their critique. Would the notoriously tongue-tied Congress be able to reach out and connect?