Call it the death of elegance in the language of politics. The dialogue between the Government and the Opposition is threatening to cross the limits of parliamentary decency. The punchline, it seems, has to be personal. Take this. The BJP wants Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to apologise for favouring the Muslims over other minorities and the entire UPA Government to resign because of rising prices. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi retorts: "The BJP should instead apologise for polarising our society. After the Gujarat riots, the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had apparently admitted that he could not show his face. But our prime minister can show his." Dasmunshi didn't stop there. "If L.K. Advani thinks that by carrying on the bogey of a campaign he can become the prime minister, he is living in a fool's paradise."
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|MAKING A POINT: Jaswant Singh and Advani take their grievances to Rashtrapati Bhavan |
For the BJP, the target has obviously changed. Or, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been upgraded as a bogeyman worthy of the saffron rage. Earlier, in the vocabulary of a desperate BJP, evil had no name other than Sonia Gandhi. Stoic as ever, she ignored the rant. Manmohan is learning to retort. Even before the session began, Manmohan, while visiting Kerala in November, had attacked the BJP leadership, saying, "The BJP has no issues against us which is why Advani is fighting with Vajpayee and Vajpayee is fighting with Advani." The BJP was quick to retaliate. Spokesperson Arun Jaitley remarked that it looked like the prime minister had run out of issues.
When the spat is within the House-which is the case mostly-the victim is of course governance. The most recent standoff has been over Manmohan's address to the National Development Council. The BJP is objecting to the fact that Manmohan reportedly promised the Muslim community the "first claim on resources". The PMO explains this as a drafting error, claiming that the prime minister had meant all minorities and not just the Muslims. But with Uttar Pradesh elections round the corner, the BJP plans to take the agitation to the streets. According to the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry, in the last eight sessions, the Opposition had stalled the House for over 192 hours.
Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee lost his cool when Advani raised the Arunachal Pradesh issue for the second time in this session, even after Mukherjee said he had given an assurance earlier. The matter ended with a red faced Mukherjee telling Advani, "don't put words in my mouth". This has been par for the course. Before moving an adjournment motion on internal security in the House, the BJP had taken up the issue with the President in Rashtrapati Bhavan complaining about Manmohan and Home Minister
Shivraj Patil. The Congress retaliated by reminding the BJP of its failure during the Kargil War. When the BJP raised the Mohammad Afzal Guru clemency issue, Dasmunshi asked Advani to apologise for failing to protect the Parliament when he was the home minister.
The Congress claims that the BJP first started the personality wars-whether it was Jaswant Singh raking up the issue of a US mole in Narasimha Rao's PMO or Advani's comment on Manmohan being the "weakest prime minister ever". Explains Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, "At best we have only replied to attacks on us, we don't believe in personal or cheap idiom." Manmohan, however, had reacted to Advani's charge at a press conference in February this year, saying, "Whether I am the weakest will be judged by history. But how strong is Advani? He went to Karachi and paid homage at the mazar of Jinnah." When asked about the "weakest prime minister" comment, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "It was not a personalised attack. It was a political statement on the working of the prime minister."
On December 5, the BJP had walked out of the House because it was not allowed to raise the matter of Party chief Rajnath Singh's arrest near Singur in the CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal. Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had claimed that he had not been given prior notice. Chatterjee felt that BJP's V.K. Malhotra could have informed him about the arrest inside the House before creating a chaos. What angered the BJP further was that the Speaker allowed the House to conduct its business in spite of the din. The BJP said that it is often prevented from speaking on the floor of the House. "It's absolutely wrong to blame the BJP of non-co-operation. We have also run the Government. It is up to the Parliamentary Affairs minister and the floor managers to ensure that business is not transacted when there are protests in the House," said Prasad.
This Government's relations with the Opposition have been tense since the word go. Sparks began to fly ever since the BJP protested against the induction of tainted ministers in Manmohan's Cabinet. The prime minister in turn had raked the issue of chargesheeted BJP cabinet ministers, including Advani. Later at a private meeting, Advani told Manmohan that he had not expected him to take these comments so personally.
The Speaker's office is armed with statistics that show Chatterjee is not responsible for the decline in government-opposition relations. In the five years of the 13th (previous) Lok Sabha, only five adjournment motions were admitted by the then Speaker, while in the last two-and-half-years six motions have already been admitted. Similarly 60 calling attention motions were taken up in the last Lok Sabha as opposed to 87 in the current one. Interestingly, during the monsoon session when accused by the BJP of pandering to the Left, the Speaker said, "I have no sides. I can only lean towards the left and you sit on my left." But the BJP is clearly not amused as was evident last week when CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat and BJP's Sushma Swaraj clashed during a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on renaming Uttaranchal. While rebutting an allegation by Karat, the BJP leader asked her to refrain from such accusations or she would silence her just as Baba Ramdev had done. That was less than politic.