Late on Thursday evening when RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was declared passed, MPs in the treasury benches of Rajya Sabha thumped their desks with force and cheered lustily as if they had just won a major trophy. The mood was clearly distinct from what is usually seen after the passage of a bill moved by the government.
The RTI amendment bill was no doubt one of the key bills to be passed by both Houses of the Parliament in the same session and will soon be notified by the President of India. But it was the events preceding the passage of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha that made it a landmark event, especially the way the politics between the Narendra Modi government and the Congress-led opposition was played out, and the way ruling BJP strategists completely outmanoeuvred Congress and its allied parties. Congress lost the game both in terms of perception as well as realpolitik.
In first of its kind event, a day after the bill was passed in Upper House, Congress and 13 of its friendly parties wrote a letter to the Chairman complaining that their voices on the Bill were not heard properly. It should be noted that the Bill was passed with 117 members voting in favour and with the active support of parties in Opposition like BJD, TRS, YRCP and AIADMK. BSP and NCP abstained from the voting while only 75 MPs opposed the Bill.
Let's consider why Congress is desperately trying for a face-saver by presenting a counter-narrative than simply conceding that it was outsmarted completely in floor management by the government.
First, it’s a known fact that the BJP, as well as the NDA, is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha and Congress along with other Opposition parties are in majority. The Congress and its friendly parties so far enjoyed an unspoken veto in the Upper House. It would practically kill a bill or force it into a deep freeze. The turn of events on Thursday evening changed that.
Second, Sonia Gandhi after lying low (having passed the mantle to son Rahul Gandhi) for long had decided to take charge by herself and made an almost public declaration that she wouldn’t allow the bill to be passed in the Rajya Sabha where she thinks Congress and its friends are still in majority. She had met with other Opposition leaders, held a discussion with her own party leaders over the issue, and chalked out a strategy to stall the Bill. In a way, she had put her personal prestige at stake. However, Thursday evening proved that she and her commanders were no match to the Modi-Shah floor management. It is too much of an embarrassment for Congress to see their supreme leader humbled at a place where their perceived strength was much higher than that of the BJP’s.
Third, this test came exactly a month after Modi had done some plain speaking in the Rajya Sabha about the way Congress and some other parties were disregarding popular will by disrupting the House and stalling key bills. On 25 June, while replying to the thanksgiving motion to President address to a joint sitting of MPs, Modi had asserted that in the last five years Rajya Sabha (the Opposition) was disregarding the will of the nation. That it was creating disruptions and putting hurdles in the country’s progress and making attempts to prevent popularly elected government from carrying out desired legislative business. His thrust was that the people were watching this, and had severely punished parties which were in constant disruption mode in the House in the recently concluded elections. In the same session, the Modi team managed to pass the contentious RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The BJP has reasons to pat its back.
Fourth, is the fact that the BJD, TRS and YSRCP along with AIADMK with their 29 MPs supported the bill. The NCP and BSP who have four members each didn’t vote. Support of BJD, TRS and YSRCP is important in the sense that their chiefs, also chief ministers of Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, respectively, have joined hands with Modi on key issues. This would go a long way and give the Modi government an opportunity to claim that co-operative federalism was at play.
Fifth, the passage of the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019, could be seen as a culmination of the process that had been initiated a day before the Rajya Sabha's current session began when four out of the six TDP MPs joined the BJP. Some of these MPs Thursday played a critical role in securing the right numbers for the BJP.
The passage of the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in the Rajya Sabha does not simply break BJP’s jinx in the Upper House but also displays what a determined Modi government 2.0 could do even when the perceived situation was not conducive to it.
Updated Date: Jul 27, 2019 17:16:55 IST