When Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu railed against the Congress and other opposition parties for disrupting the winter session of Parliament and insulting the prime minister, his complaint had a touch of irony to it.

Naidu probably forgot the argument put forth by his own party colleagues when the United Progressive Alliance was in power and the Bharatiya Janata Party occupied the opposition benches. When successive sessions were disrupted by the BJP during the UPA regime, Sushma Swaraj, then leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, had declared that “not allowing Parliament to function is also a form of democracy, like any other form”.

Her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, had justified the opposition demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the stalling of parliamentary proceedings following the controversy over the allocation of coal blocks. “By disrupting Parliament, we have given out a message to the country,” he had said. “When we disrupted Parliament three years back on 2G scam, the telecom sector was cleaned. Now, the country is faced by the issue, how to clean up the entire process of allocation of resources.”

Not working is work too

In an article in August 2012, Jaitley had argued in favour of disruptions: “If parliamentary accountability is subverted and a debate is intended to be used merely to put a lid on parliamentary accountability, it is then a legitimate tactic for the Opposition to expose the government through parliamentary instruments available at its command.” According to Jaitley, disruption should not be described as preventing work from being done, because “what we are doing is very important work itself.”

Congress floor managers would then invariably point an accusing finger at the BJP for stalling Parliament sessions, appeal for peace and declare that it was ready for a discussion on any issue which the opposition wished to raise.

Clearly, the wheel has come full circle.

The Congress and the BJP have changed places. Today, it is the turn of Jaitley, now the country’s finance minister, to hit out at the Congress and other opposition parties, describing them as being “obstructionist” when he was unable to push through the National Democratic Alliance government’s key reforms legislation like the insurance bill in Parliament. Similarly, the coal bill relating to the facilitation of auction of coal blocks also fell by the wayside.

The Congress was quick to respond, saying it is the government’s responsibility to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament.

Parties close ranks

The pow-pow over the insurance bill itself is ironic. The Congress has no serious objections to it since it was first moved by the UPA government in 2008. However, it was consistently blocked by an obdurate BJP. Having been at the receiving end when it was in power, the Congress is clearly in no mood to help the BJP in the expeditious passage of the Bill.

It would have been difficult for the Congress to reject the Bill had it come up for a vote. It was, however, prevented from taking this decision when the Congress and other opposition parties displayed unusual unity to corner the NDA government over the spate of communal statements made by BJP MPs and the “ghar wapsi” programmes conducted by bodies affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

An unrelenting opposition ensured that the Rajya Sabha was unable to conduct any business for over a week as it persistently demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi clarify his government’s stand on conversions. The NDA was helpless in the face of the opposition’s aggression because it is in minority in the Upper House.

If the winter session of Parliament proved to be a reality check for the BJP, it was also a learning experience for the prime minister. In the monsoon session, Modi had watched impassively when a belligerent opposition stormed the well of the House to demand an explanation from the NDA government for the rise in prices of essential commodities. In this session, the prime minister had to face a far more strident opposition which had closed ranks to protest against the ruling party’s communal agenda. Consequently, Modi was forced to apologise in Parliament for the intemperate remarks made by Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti at an election rally in Delhi.

Trading pot shots
But Parliament, especially the Rajya Sabha, remained on the boil over the conversions row as the government rejected the opposition’s demand for a statement from the prime minister on this issue.

Although the NDA government was unable to push ahead with its much-touted reforms agenda, Venkaiah Naidu drew solace from the fact that the Lok Sabha passed 18 Bills and the Rajya Sabha passed 12 Bills, even though most of them were minor legislations.

At the same time, he could not resist taking pot shots at the opposition.

“The stalling of Parliament by the opposition, which obstructed the passage of key Bills in this winter session is an effort to stall this government’s development agenda and with a view to restricting the government’s choice in the next budget,” declared Naidu.

As expected, Congress was quick with an equally biting response. “It is the arrogance of the prime minister which stalled Parliament… he has failed, faltered and fallen,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala replied. “After all, he is accountable to Parliament.”