RS deputy chairman election: Modi-Shah's masterful display in Monsoon Session may be a prelude to 2019 polls

The election for post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman was yet another occasion for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to prove their unmatched ability to turn a challenging situation to their advantage.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. PTI

They always punch above their weight and get the desired result. The numbers for deputy chairman’s election read: 125 for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Harivansh and 105 for Congress-led Opposition candidate BK Hariprasad.

The significance of these numbers can be gauged from the fact that the BJP-led NDA is in the minority in the Rajya Sabha. They only have 92 seats in the 244-member House but they got 125 votes. The Modi regime would thus have the satisfaction of closing Monsoon Session on a buoyant note. This short session began with government surprising the Opposition by accepting the Congress and TDP sponsored no-confidence motion on day one, holding the debate and voting within 48 hours of the motion being submitted.

Modi used that occasion to not only display his characteristic oratory — listing his government's achievements and giving a point-by-point rebuttal to Congress president Rahul Gandhi — but also to show that after four years in government, he has a greater support in the House than the ruling NDA numbers suggest. The Opposition only mustered the support of 126 members and the government defeated the motion with flying colors with 325 MPs by its side. It should also be noted that in a House of 542 MPs, only 451 participated in voting: the Shiv Sena, a BJP ally in the Lok Sabha with 18 members, abstained.

These numbers, and the way Modi-Shah played out their parliamentary and political strategy, succeeded in getting the most of the important bills passed and turning public opinion in their favour over the highly sensitive National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam: all of this acquires additional significance ahead of Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram.

This also comes around the time when the build-up for 2019 parliamentary elections in terms of setting agenda for public discourse has already begun. By nominating Harivansh, a first-time MP from the Janata Dal (United), for the post of deputy chairman, Modi-Shah sent the message that they care for their allies and are willing to walk the extra mile to give a position of prominence to deserving persons. The JD(U) does not have any representation in the council of ministers nor did it lay any claim to the post. This comes as an honour to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar (who is also the JD(U) chief).

Modi's gesture: entering the House and walking up to Harivansh’s newly-designated seat to compliment him and delivering a highly engaging speech in his honour with a larger political message to people in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand has its own significance. Though what the prime minister did was part of parliamentary procedure, the difference was made by how Modi did it: by injecting a personal touch into the exercise. A Union minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Firstpost, “By moving a no-confidence motion in Lok Sabha and making so much noise about the election of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman, the Congress helped us gain a great advantage in terms of public perception and discourse, which we would otherwise only have achieved through six months of hard work.”

The shrill noises made by the Congress and its ally TMC  over the NRC and their determined bid to prevent Shah from speaking in the Upper House helped the BJP add to their advantage. On all these occasions, Modi succeeded in building the perception that despite the Peoples Democratic Party and Telugu Desam Party exiting the NDA fold and despite the Shiv Sena playing truant, the ruling coalition is alive and kicking. The BJP succeeded in getting All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Biju Janata Dal and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (all-non NDA parties) to stand with it and vote for it. The BJP can now claim that important non-NDA parties which rule three states have confidence in Modi, irrespective of their differences over policies and politics with the Centre and the BJP.

In contrast, Rahul failed to inspire confidence among Opposition leaders. His idea of moving no-confidence motion against the Modi government ended up benefitting the BJP. It exposed a schism in the Opposition ranks. The Congress and its allies built hype around the post of deputy chairman and then failed to get their candidate elected.

Rahul's inability to unify the ranks of the Opposition or make them believe in his ability and intent comes even as a great deal of hype is being built around the proposed mahagathbandhan or grand alliance against Modi and BJP for 2019. Even the Congress president's public admission — overruling the Congress Working Committee (his party’s highest policy making body's resolution) — that he was willing to leave his aspirations of being prime minister in 2019 and step aside for Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati hasn’t helped the cause of Opposition unity. On the contrary, it has thrown up too many prime ministerial aspirants from the Opposition ranks.

The tale of the 2018 Monsoon Session of Parliament may be a prelude to the 2019 polls.


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Updated Date: Aug 09, 2018 19:09:27 IST

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