With the first two days of the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament ending without transacting any constructive business with the principal opposition party, the Congress, not showing any signs of relenting from its stated positions, it appears that once again, the legislative business of Parliament will be held hostage to external political developments. This is something the nation can ill afford at this juncture. Economic growth is delicately poised on the cusp of a potential take-off. But for that to happen, key reform measures have to move forward. Foremost among them is the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), arguably the most significant tax reform measure undertaken since Independence. The importance of GST to revitalise growth is well known to both the Congress, which laid the groundwork for introducing GST, and the BJP, which has given it the finishing touches. A uniform national tax is estimated to potentially add 1 per cent to the GDP growth rate, which can provide the acceleration needed for the country to move from low- to middle-income status, with all the attendant benefits.
It is therefore inexplicable — and distressing — to see the same old school of confrontational politics rearing its head once more. As the main opposition party, the Congress has every right — indeed, it is its duty as the Opposition in a democracy — to hold the government to account for its deeds and alleged misdeeds. But insisting on the resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as a pre-condition for allowing the House to function is blackmail, not politics. If the Congress hopes that paying the BJP back in its own coin, and inducing ‘policy paralysis’ by disrupting Parliament will help it win the next time around, it is making a grave error of judgment. The people want development, growth and a better life. That is what they voted for, and they will undoubtedly punish those seen as responsible for not delivering it, irrespective of their party colours.
It is tempting to think that this matter would be sorted out if the ruling BJP reached out to the Congress and hammered out a compromise. But it is doubtful whether better political management will succeed in ending the stalemate. The BJP, after all, is no stranger to intransigence and obstructionism when in the opposition. What is required is a complete overhaul of a political culture which conflates noise and disruption with political victory. Congress MP and former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor once wrote that “in India’s parliament, many members feel that the best way to show the strength of their feelings is to disrupt the lawmaking rather than debate the law”. Our MPs need to be taught that reality is the other way around.