To be humble in victory is expected of politicians and Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t disappoint on that score on Thursday after his historic reelection. His victory speech, composed of a unifying theme and an outreach to the Opposition, was more than a nod to niceties. It was Modi looking to write his way into the history books as a leader with significant legislative accomplishments.
On Friday, he followed up his speech with a visit to the homes of former BJP presidents, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, both of whom were reportedly angry with Modi after they were denied tickets to contest the election. The prime minister has continued his assiduous cultivation of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Naveen Patnaik. And it could be no coincidence that the Central Bureau of Investigation told the Supreme Court that it has found no evidence of offence in its corruption probe involving the family of Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav.
In his first term in office, Modi’s most significant legislative achievement was the Constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act to introduce the Goods and Services Tax from 1 July, 2017. Another constitutional amendment last year enabled 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections in public jobs and education. Important achievements, no doubt, but Modi will aim to seal his place in history. His ambitions are large, and the 2019 mandate is full of possibilities.
At 353 seats, the tally of the National Democratic Alliance is tantalisingly close to the two-thirds mark in the Lok Sabha which has 545 seats. With two nominated seats reserved for the Anglo-Indian community, it becomes even closer. Therefore, pushing through a major piece of legislation which requires a constitutional amendment is within reach in the Lok Sabha.
Amendments that seek to change federal provisions in the Constitution must be ratified by legislatures of at least half of the states. Here, too, the BJP should be safe. Only the most important constitutional amendments, such as the GST law, require the consent of state legislatures.
While the NDA is set for big legislation in the Lok Sabha and in state Assemblies, here comes the rub: in the Rajya Sabha. The Upper House has remained out of reach of the BJP for all of Modi’s first term, and the prospects don’t look very good for the immediate future. The BJP and its allies control just over 100 of the 245 seats in the Upper House, with the BJP alone having 73 seats. Mustering a two-thirds majority is a tall order, and the BJP desperately needs allies if Modi is interested in making legislative history.
Modi is definitely interested, which is what explains the outreach to the BJD (9 seats in the Rajya Sabha) and the Samajwadi Party (13 seats). Every vote counts, and you can count on Modi’s charm offensive.
But what will be his major legislative roster? There are, of course, the controversial promises in the BJP manifesto. The abrogation of articles 370 and 35-A which apply to Jammu and Kashmir is one such. And then there is the Uniform Civil Code, again a problematic issue. But what Modi chooses to pursue will be his decision and there is little point second-guessing him on that.
But one low-hanging fruit is the Women's Reservation Bill, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010. With the NDA’s strength in the Lok Sabha bolstered, this will likely become a significant victory. Modi’s place in the history books as a prodigious politician is assured. He will now seek chapter and verse about himself as a man who left his mark on history with a record of legislative achievements. Towards this end, as he begins his second term, Modi is not just being magnanimous. He is being a master of realpolitik.
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Updated Date: May 24, 2019 19:50:12 IST