18th Lok Sabha stiffest Opp challenge for NDA Led ruling parties ?


In all his 20-plus years as head of the Treasury, Narendra Modi has never set eyes on as robust an Opposition as he will on Monday when the 18th Lok Sabha assembles for its first sitting.

Belying a prediction he had made in the same House less than four months ago, the INDIA bloc has secured 234 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 seats. It will now be difficult to shout its members down or suspend them en masse to muscle through legislation with little or no scrutiny, as in Modi’s previous two terms

Modi had on February 5, while replying to the motion of thanks to the President’s address in the last session before the general election, unsheathed his “Abki baar chaar sau paar (This time, 400-plus)” slogan. He had predicted that most of the Congress candidates would lose and be spotted in the “visitors’ gallery” of the Lok Sabha. As the elections progressed, Modi had projected himself as a godsend.

Cocking a snook at that prophecy, the Congress has nearly doubled its strength in the House, from 52 to 99. For the first time since the beginning of Modi’s dominance in Delhi, the party will be officially eligible to claim the post of leader of the Opposition, having secured the necessary one-tenth of the House’s seats.

The BJP’s numbers are still more than double the Congress’s, but the ruling party is bereft of the sheen of absolute majority. It is reduced to 240 members — far below the majority mark of 272 and down from the 303 it tallied in 2019 — and compelled for the first time to bank on its allies, not just to get bills passed but to survive.

The Opposition has, by contesting Bhartruhari Mahtab’s appointment to the temporary post of pro-tem Speaker, given advance notice of its unwillingness to concede anything without a fight.

The Opposition views the appointment of seven-term member Mahtab at the expense of the Congress’s eight-term member, Kodikunnil Suresh, as an attempt by the BJP to lay down an early marker and show that it continues to hold the whip hand as before.

Led by the Congress, the Opposition promptly opposed the move alleging Mahtab’s appointment as pro-tem Speaker amounted to a breach of “convention” and “an unquestioned norm” that required the senior-most MP to be assigned the post.

As a mark of protest, the three designated INDIA bloc members on the panel that is to assist the pro-tem Speaker are likely to withdraw themselves. If they do so — the final decision will be taken on Monday morning — it will mark a rare chapter in Parliament’s history.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Sunday sought to accuse the BJP of being biased against Dalits, questioning why Karnataka MP Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi, a seven-time parliamentarian like Mahtab, was not considered for the pro-tem Speaker’s post.

The short session of eight working days — from June 24 to July 3 — is meant for limited business. These include the administration of oath to the newly elected MPs over the first two days, followed by the Speaker’s election, a joint address to both Houses by the President, and a discussion on the motion of thanks to the President’s address.

But a resurgent Opposition intends to make its reawakened enthusiasm felt even during this short session by raising a storm over a host of issues such as the serial fiascos involving public exams like the NEET-UG and the UGC-NET and the lacunae in railway safety.

Also on the agenda are the demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into alleged stock market manipulations through “fake” exit polls, the Agnipath scheme of four-year military recruitments, and the continuing Manipur unrest.

The first two days are likely to pass peacefully, with the oath of affirmation being administered to the newly elected MPs, but the lull could be broken during the Speaker’s election on Wednesday.

Given the Opposition’s mood, it could force a contest by fielding its own candidate if it finds the government nominee unacceptable.

The BJP has deputed defence minister Rajnath Singh, a veteran from the coalition era of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to talk to the Opposition and ensure the Speaker’s election is a unanimous one. He faces a challenging task.

The Opposition could also demand the deputy Speaker’s post, setting up another possible showdown.

The acrimony, however, is likely to be visible most clearly during the discussion on the motion of thanks to the President’s address, when the Opposition is expected to try and put the government on the mat.

“The challenge for Modi will come not from managing his coalition, but from an Opposition which is coming to the House with the mindset that the ruling party has no mandate to rule,” key RSS functionary and former BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said in an opinion piece on Saturday.

“Modi said he missed a ‘good Opposition’. He should brace up for a rancorous Opposition in this term,” Madhav added.

A preview of how belligerent the Opposition is likely to be came in another opinion piece, written by former Congress finance minister P. Chidambaram.

“The Opposition parties must act as if they were the government. They must seize the opportunity and set the narrative for the government,” Chidambaram said in the piece, published in The Indian Express on Sunday, stressing the polls had thrown up a “formidable parliamentary Opposition

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