Fans Might Be Thrilled, But Subramanian Swamy Is Not Helping BJP's Cause

29/04/2016 6:53 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 28: BJP Member of Parliament Rajya Sabha Subramanian Swamy during the Parliament Session on April 28, 2016 in New Delhi, India. The government and opposition benches struck a temporary truce on Thursday, shelving their political differences to enable the Rajya Sabha to vote through two bills and press on with its lawmaking work. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- Rajya Sabha's newest entrant Subramanian Swamy has monopolized the second part of the Budget Session of Parliament, and newspaper headlines, this week. He has dragged Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi into the AgustaWestland helicopter bribery case, twice made remarks which had to be expunged from the records, and dealt a low blow by referring to the "Italian Constitution."

Riding alone and unarmed like some kind of Hindu-nationalist Lochinvar, Swamy has charged into the Upper House, assuming a frontal attack role on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party, while sating his formidable appetite for hounding the Gandhi family.

With his rapier wit and quick comebacks, Swamy can conjure a Parliamentary spectacle almost at will, and in a way few others--whether in treasury or Opposition--can or do unhesitatingly. For a floor management strategy point of view, he's a useful asset to have in your arsenal--there will always be occasion when you need a little diversion from another issue or a distraction to prevent a critical debate from consuming too much time. But the BJP is going to realize soon enough--and there are already signs this is happening--that its newly minted Rajya Sabha MP is going to be a double-edged sword, to be used sparingly and with great discretion.

Modi and BJP has a massive majority in Lok Sabha, but our bicameral Parliamentary system as well as some conventions that the BJP itself had vigorously pursued in the past, makes sure that it is hardly a sufficient condition to push urgent legislative work through. Nothing stops the Opposition from disrupting Parliament at the slightest provocation (and since BJP has done this while it was in Opposition, the moral persuasion in its anger while in power would be weak). Besides, the BJP's early dreams of achieving an absolute majority in Rajya Sabha over time looks more out of reach subsequent to the last few Assembly elections, than it had in the immediate aftermath of the sensational 2014 victory.

In other words, working with the Opposition is not optional for the ruling party.

The Monsoon Session last year was disrupted by the Lalit Modi-Sushma Swaraj scandal, as well as the government's Land Acquisition Ordinance. And the Winter Session was disrupted by allegations of "vendetta politics" over Swamy's pursuit of the National Herald case.

Essential legislation is now mounting.

More hostility and ill-feelings from its rivals should be a frightening prospect for the Modi government, which has failed to push through critical bills since the Monsoon Session.

Escalating hostilities is antithetical to the interests of the BJP in the long run. But it remains to be seen if Swamy, a maverick political animal who thrives on attention, will agree to pipe down in BJP's strategic interests.

Swamy has come back to Parliament after nearly two decades. During the Emergency imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he was expelled from the Rajya Sabha for running a "systematic anti-India campaign" because he made the world aware about the clamp down on the media, political leaders and human rights violations unfolding in India.

Since the seventies, the former Harvard University professor has served thrice as a lawmaker in the Lok Sabha, when he led the Janata Party, and twice in the Rajya Sabha. Swamy's nomination by the Modi government is widely regarded as the establishment showing its appreciation for his relentless pursuit of corruption charges against the Gandhi family.

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Undaunted by warnings of disciplinary action and summons to the Speaker's chambers, Swamy has thrown himself into the role of a crusader. While legions of his fans are thrilled, Swamy's provocative behavior is coming at a time when the BJP and the Congress Party are already on edge over the constitutional crisis in Uttarakhand, the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, and the Agusta Westland helicopter bribery allegations.

Somehow, in the midst of all this acrimony, the Modi government is hoping to make headway on the embattled Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, and push through other legislation such as the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Code, Railways Appropriation Bill, 2016, Consumer Protection Bill, 2015, the Finance Bill, 2016, among many others.

In light of all this pending work, not everyone in the BJP is pleased with Swamy's behaviour. The Economic Times reported today about an informal meeting between senior leaders of the Congress Party and the Modi government in which they agreed to tone down the ruckus in Parliament.

The meeting, which included Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and senior Congress Party leader Anand Sharma, was reportedly convened because there is bipartisan understanding that the toxic exchanges in Rajya Sabha isn't helping anyone.

Endorsement for the meeting reportedly came from the top leadership of both parties.

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The need to establish some sort of working relationship with the Opposition is not lost on the Modi government. During the Winter Session last year, senior leaders of the BJP made several efforts to reach out to the Opposition in public as well as behind the scenes, especially over the need to pass the GST Bill, which is key to tax reforms and to retain the support of industry.

In his Lok Sabha speech during the first part of the Budget Session last month, Modi ripped into his political rivals for disrupting parliamentary proceedings, and implored that Parliament be allowed to function.

But BJP leaders may find it hard to subdue Swamy, who must relish being in the political mainstream after a long time in relative wilderness. Speaking in Rajya Sabha and having his speeches beamed all over the country is no doubt more satisfying than tweeting.

Just like that, the BJP has an MP to watch in its own ranks.

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