NEW DELHI -- The Monsoon Session concluded today amidst heightened political bitterness, making little headway on two critical bills dealing with land acquisition and tax reforms. The war of words in parliament between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress Party got acrimonious and personal, obliterating room for backroom negotiations and compromises.
The washout was not entirely unanticipated because the Congress Party had - all summer - demanded the resignations of three senior BJP leaders as a prerequisite to allowing parliament function. But a degree of compromise was expected over the Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2014, a brainchild of the UPA government, which brings the biggest indirect tax reforms since 1947.
While the BJP offered to debate the Lalit Modi scandal and the Vyapam scam over the past three weeks, the Congress Party remained unflinching in its demands for the resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasandhura Raje and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and the Monsoon Session deteriorated into a routine of early adjournments and shouting matches in both houses of parliament.
It made one thing clear though--notwithstanding his party's brute majority in Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to find ways to work with the opposition throughout the remaining years of his term.
Modi today accused the Gandhi family of trying to hold on to power at the cost of national interest. “The Congress is desperate as it wants power to remain concentrated with one family," he said. “Congress wants to save the family, BJP wants to save the nation.”
After Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were adjourned sine die around noon on Thursday, the Congress Party and the BJP held competing demonstrations in the national capital. Senior BJP leaders walked in a "Save Democracy" march from Vijay Chowk to Rashtrapati Bhawan to send out a message that the Congress Party is responsible for holding back critical reforms for economic growth.
"This was a disruption without a cause," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the media on Thursday afternoon. “The real agenda of the Congress Party was to ensure that there is no economic progress."
"It has never happened before that the supreme leader of a mainstream party enters the well of the House," he said. "They did not have the numbers so they used lung power."
The passage of the GST bill is necessary for the Modi government to retain the support of industry, a key constituency whose backing helped his electoral campaign. As the chaos showed no signs of abating, top business leaders signed a petition to end the parliamentary paralysis. They also warned that it would be impossible to implement the GST Bill by April 2016 unless it passed in the Monsoon Session.
The Modi government is reportedly planning to hold a special session for the passage of the GST Bill, which needs a two-thirds majority in the Rajya Sabha. But the BJP and the Congress Party will have to meet each other half way for this endeavour to succeed.
With the narrative on the damage to the economy gaining momentum, the Congress Party could succumb to engaging on this single issue of the GST Bill, especially since both the NDA and UPA government have worked on it. And the Modi government has already made significant compromises on the Land Bill by bringing back the crucial social impact assessment and consent clauses.
"We are the authors of the GST. I can take some credit for that," former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said at a press conference today. "We want a good GST. Not this GST which is riddled with problems.”
"I don’t see any reason why the party will not cooperate if the BJP accepts the fundamental objections that we have raised and finds a consensus," he said.
Meanwhile, the Congress Party is also on shaky ground when it comes to support from other opposition parties, which staunchly backed its "resignation before discussion" stand when the Monsoon Session kicked off, but wavered during the last week as criticism over damaging national interest mounted.
Aftermath - NDA To Bash Congress On Its Turf - Congress Party To Purse Lalit Modi
While the Congress Party created a ruckus in parliament, observers reiterated that it was the responsibility of the Modi government to build consensus and manage the disorder that played out in both Houses.
Jaitley said today's protest march was to highlight the Congress Party's "bad behaviour," and the NDA government is set to launch a nationwide campaign to tell the public about how its political rival is holding economic growth hostage to petty politics. "You are into renting causes for your political benefit. There is hardly an ideological thrust to that," he said.
The campaign will receive special attention in the 53 constituencies of the Congress Party(44) and the Left parties (9) which showed no signs of relenting through the session.
Meanwhile, the Congress Party today made it clear that it would continue to seek answers about the help which External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj extended to Lalit Modi for obtaining travel documents from the U.K. government, when he was being investigated for financial irregularities. A non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against the former Indian Premier League chairman, last week.
Leading the charge for the Congress Party, Chidambaram said that Swaraj had failed to answer specific questions raised during the Lok Sabha debate on the Lalit Modi scandal on Wednesday. "Instead of a debate, we got a diatribe," he said. "Instead of facts, we got fudge."
Chidambaram asked why Swaraj kept the External Affairs Ministry in the dark about her intervention for Lalit Modi, why did she recommend U.K. travel papers instead of Indian documents, and why did she not instruct temporary travel document.
In June, Chidambaram demanded the release of two letters which he wrote to U.K. government in 2011 and 2013 for the deportation of Lalit Modi, who had taken refuge in London after his passport was cancelled. Calling on the Modi government to release the letters, he said on Thursday, "Why are they playing hide and seek?"
It Got Personal
The political wrangling between the two parties became increasingly vicious as the Monsoon Session continued without any breakthroughs.
While the BJP accused the Gandhi family of not being able to bear anyone in power, and dismissed Rahul Gandhi as an "immature" politician who mouths off on issues without any knowledge, the Congress Party has attempted to project Modi as an arrogant leader, who doesn't care about the poor, sucks up to corporate powers, and poses a threat to the secular character of the country.
Last week, Sonia Gandhi attacked Modi for not consulting Congress Party chief ministers in the Northeast before finalising the historic Nagaland accord. "Their arrogance is now even more clear than before," she said.
"I'm here to defend the country from the RSS. I'm here to defend the country from Narendra Modi," Rahul Gandhi told the media on Thursday.
Jaitley, who described Gandhi as an "expert without any knowledge" on Wednesday, made another jibe at the Congress Party leader today. "The more he grows, the more he immatures," he said. "When the family loses power, they take the defeat personally," he said. "The summersault on policy is essentially because of one factor."
The only exception to the norm of adjournments and shouting in parliament came on the second last day of the Monsoon Session, when the Congress Party unexpectedly agreed to debate the Lalit Modi scandal in the Lok Sabha.
In a no-holds-barred session, Swaraj ripped into the Gandhi family's political history, and Rahul Gandhi hit back with a scathing attack on the foreign minister's ties with Lalit Modi.
"I want to say to Rahul Gandhi that you are very fond of taking holidays. You take holidays for two months. On you next break, sit quietly and read your family history," she said. "And then come home and ask Mamma, how much money did we take from Quattrochi, and ask Mamma, why did daddy let Anderson, the killer of 15,000 people, escape?"
Responding to Swaraj's remarks about his father, Gandhi said today, "The judicial system of India has cleared as Rajiv Gandhi. Bring it up as much as you want. It makes no difference."
While Swaraj reiterated that she helped Lalit Modi on "humanitarian" grounds so that he could visit his wife, who was undergoing cancer treatment in Portugal, Gandhi asked why the foreign minister felt the need to carry out her "humanitarian" work in secrecy.
"Sushma ji is the first humanitarian who does her work in secret," he said.
And then, Gandhi accused Swaraj of having financial ties with Lalit Modi.
"Yesterday, Sushma ji held my hand and said 'beta, why are you angry with me.' And I said, Sushma ji, I'm not angry with you. I respect you. And I looked into your eyes, and said Sushma ji, I'm speaking the truth. And you lowered your eyes. Now the question is why did you this?"
"Now, I'll tell you. Lalit Modi gives your family money. Your family take care of his legal affairs. And at the same time, you help him in the ministry."