Striking a conciliatory note before the start of the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked the Opposition not to bother about its numbers and instead participate actively and constructively in the parliamentary proceedings. Indeed, the Opposition’s numbers are nothing to write home about as the BJP-led NDA won a staggering 353 seats out of 542 in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The PM’s assertion that the Opposition’s every word is valuable to the government will, hopefully, set the stage for a fruitful session. Modi’s outreach is in sharp contrast to his vitriolic attacks on the Congress and other parties during campaigning in April-May. He had repeatedly dubbed the ‘mahagathbandhan’ (mega alliance) ‘mahamilavati’ (highly adulterated). He had even said the BJP’s rivals could not accept that India had made rapid strides under his leadership. The Opposition had miserably failed not only in countering Modi’s tirade but also in offering a viable alternative to the electorate.
The ‘vipaksh’ might have been routed in the Lok Sabha elections, but it should quickly pick up the pieces and work hard to keep the government on its toes right from the outset. Farm distress, unemployment and economic slowdown are some of the key issues that require the government’s immediate attention and can no longer be consigned to the back-burner.
The Opposition’s performance in Parliament over the next five years will be critical to its credibility. Frequent disruptions and walkouts might turn out to be an exercise in futility. According to the PRS Legislative Research, a non-profit, independent research institute, the 16th Lok Sabha lost 16 per cent of its scheduled time to disruptions — better than the 15th (37 per cent) but worse than the 14th (13 per cent). Also, the 16th Lok Sabha worked for 1,615 hours, 20 per cent more than its predecessor, but 40 per cent lower than the average of all full-term Lok Sabhas (2,689 hours). These numbers underline the dire need for the Opposition to concentrate on meaningful debates in the House and ensure that it is actually taken seriously by the government.