Is PM Narendra Modi on a Weaker Footing in Parliament's Monsoon Session?

·5-min read

The Modi 2.0 government’s third monsoon session is turning out to be radically different from the first two. In 2019 and 2020, after storming back to power with a bigger majority, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at the top of his game as he rode roughshod over a dispirited opposition to ram through core Hindutva agenda items and controversial reforms.

It may just be a coincidence but it is interesting that he used two consecutive monsoon sessions for a muscular show of strength that resulted in the revocation of Article 370, the downgrading of Jammu and Kashmir into a union territory after slicing off Ladakh, the banning of triple talaq and the passage of contentious agricultural and labour laws without debate. The opposition was left shellshocked.

The tables have turned this year. It’s the Modi government that’s caught in the monsoon storm with a rejuvenated opposition on the rampage from the very first day when it did not allow the Prime Minister to introduce his newly inducted ministers.

Also Read: Monsoon Session 2021: Here’s a List Of Key Bills to Be Tabled in Parliament

Is PM Modi on a Weaker Footing in Parliament This Session?

The experience must have been both unique and unpleasant for Modi. He has always dominated in Parliament and shut down the opposition with stinging well-aimed barbs. Not this time. Nothing he said, not even his attempt to use the caste and gender cards against the protestors, silenced the ruckus.

Parliament is the stage on which the dynamics of national politics plays out. Every session is a battle of wits between the ruling and opposition parties to determine who sets the agenda and controls the narrative. If the start of the ongoing monsoon session is any indication, the opposition seems to wrested the initiative from Modi and pushed the government on the backfoot.

These are early days and the tussle is still unfolding. But for the first time since Modi emerged as a seemingly invincible powerhouse, chinks have appeared in his armour.

Before the session began, the opposition had zeroed in on three issues to put the government on the mat: soaring inflation driven by a steep hike in petrol prices, mismanagement of the Covid pandemic and continuing farmers’ unrest over the new agricultural laws.

Modi Government Caught Unawares by Pegasus

The Pegasus spyware controversy has come as an unexpected bonus to give it a fourth issue with the potential to assume the proportions of the infamous Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign from the post of US President in 1974.

The Pegasus project revelations are not that explosive yet but the government’s incoherent defence and the revival of that worn out trope of the "foreign hand" suggest that it is worried about not just domestic impact but international ramifications as well.

Its anxiety is compounded by reports that world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan were on the list of names targeted for Pegasus spying.

Government leaders had come to the monsoon session prepped to counter the opposition on the known issues of Covid mismanagement, rising prices and the farmers’ agitation. In fact, they tried to pre-empt an opposition attack on the pandemic by offering a power-point briefing by Modi himself on the steps the government has taken to control its spread.

They seem to have been caught unawares by the Pegasus revelations on the eve of the session. Sensing the government’s unpreparedness, the opposition is trying to press home its advantage. Much depends on the nature of further disclosures and the response of the international community to the misuse of spyware developed to hunt down terrorists, not civil society activists, opposition politicians and journalists.

The Opposition Can't Believe Its Luck

A point of concern for the Modi government is that France as well as Israel are investigating the allegations contained in the Pegasus report. At some point pressure will build here for the government on two issues.

One is to disclose whether or not it had bought the Pegasus spyware from the Israeli company NSO.

The second is to start a probe here, possibly monitored by the Supreme Court. Given the mood in the apex court, there is a distinct possibility that it may order an investigation.

The opposition believes it is sitting pretty. As a leading opposition member pointed out, the session has four weeks and they have four issues to slam the government with. "We have made a noise about Pegasus. We are also taking up the government’s mismanagement of Covid in a big way. And we will still have two issues in our kitty to raise in the session."

The opposition cannot believe its luck at the bounty that has fallen into its lap because of the government’s own missteps.

Modi Magic Vs Power of Pawar and Prashant

The war of nerves is warming up. The BJP has deployed a formidable army of state leaders and spokespersons to take on the opposition and cow it down with the by now overly familiar tactics of branding it "anti-national".

However, the opposition seems to have rediscovered its mojo. It could be the Bengal effect with Mamata Banerjee’s smashing victory over the Modi-led BJP campaign in the recent assembly elections giving the opposition hope.

It could also be the active interest the doyen of Indian politics Sharad Pawar is taking in putting together a united fight against Modi in 2024. It could even be the help extended by the acknowledged master election strategist Prashant Kishore who has put his services at the disposal of all parties that want to defeat Modi.

The monsoon session could well give us fascinating insights into the changing political landscape as Modi fights to recoup his losses in the wake of Covid-19, a floundering economy, and—most of all—the Pegasus revelations.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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