NEW DELHI -- Armed with the Lalit Modi scandal and the Vyapam scam, the Congress Party has declared open war on monsoon session of Parliament that begins tomorrow, making it highly unlikely that the Modi government will make headway on the passage of two critical bills dealing with land acquisition and tax reforms.
"The Congress Party would approach this session in the same spirit that the NDA government has approached every session of the parliament from 2004 to 2014," Congress leader Manish Tiwari told HuffPost India.
"The current finance minister (Arun Jaitley) and the former leader of the opposition (Sushma Swaraj) said that blocking parliament was a legitimate parliamentary tactic," he said. "We will be using this legitimately parliamentary tactic to the fullest."
The Bharatiya Janata Party has been hit by two major scandals involving its senior leaders -- external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhura Raje and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan -- making it vulnerable to sustained attacks by its political rivals.
Paralysis in Parliament will be a set back to the Modi government, which has a wide range of bills ranging from real estate to juvenile justice, and consumer protection to mental health, waiting in the wings to be discussed and approved by lawmakers.
So far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has maintained silence over the raging controversies, and the BJP has defended its leaders, mostly by harping on the scandals under the UPA government. At stake for the NDA government are two critical pieces of legislation: Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2014, which brings the biggest indirect tax reforms since 1947, and the controversial Land Bill 2015, which relaxes the provisions related to acquisition of land.
While the BJP failed to generate political consensus around the Land Bill over several months, the Congress Party won the perception battle in getting it branded as "anti-people and anti-farmer." Failure in the monsoon session would force the Modi government to pass the land acquisition ordinance for the fourth time since December.
Political analysts say that Modi will have to eventually address these raging controversies since the passage of these two bills is necessary to retain the support of industry, a key constituency whose backing helped his electoral campaign.
"It is already getting to the point where they say you are good for nothing," said Ashutosh Misra, a political analyst at Lucknow University. "If the opposition is hell-bent on creating a ruckus, Modi will have to make some kind of bargain with them because legislation cannot be rammed down throats even if you have a majority."
"Even if its numbers are small, the Congress has an explosive bouquet of issues and powerful leverage," he said. "It also has the support of the Left which is deeply grounded and very articulate."
Summer of scandals
The Congress Party has demanded the resignations of Swaraj and Raje for helping Lalit Modi, a fugitive from Indian law, who is being investigated for financial irregularities and money laundering when he was the chairman of the Indian Premier League.
While Swaraj assisted Modi in securing travel documents from the British government, last year, Raje backed his immigration plea in 2011 on the condition that her support will be hidden from Indian authorities.
That's not all. The Congress Party will also demand the resignation of Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani over allegations that she has submitted false college documents to the Election Commission over the years.
Vyapam, the other big scam which will be raised in parliament, came back into the limelight following a spate of mysterious deaths in recent weeks. Vyapam involves politicians and government officials allowing impostors to take exams for government jobs in Madhya Pradesh, and manipulating results, in exchange of vast sums of money.
The Congress Party has said that 49 people connected with the scam have died since 2010, and demanded the resignations of Chouhan and Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who allegedly took an airline ticket from Sudhir Sharma, a billionaire mining baron accused in the scam.
Opposition not united
Several parties have raised concerns over the Lalit Modi scandal and the Vyapam scandal, but political analysts have pointed out that no party -- national or regional -- is keen to appear as blindly following the Congress' lead.
Thirty six parties are represented in the Lok Sabha, with BJP having the majority of 280 seats, followed by the Congress Party with 44 seats, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of Tamil Nadu with 37, the All India Trinamool Congress of West Bengal with 34, the Biju Janata Dal of Orissa with 20, and the Aam Aadmi Party with 4.
In the Rajya Sabha, where 29 parties are represented, no one has a majority, but the Congress Party has 68 seats followed by the BJP with 48.
"India is a huge country and there are several layers of parties so you will never have a neat postcard," said Misra. "Don't forget that the Congress Party is the number two rival of these parties in their own states. There can never be union between numbers 1 and 2."
The Biju Janata Dal has made clear its stand of keeping an equal distance from the Congress and the BJP, and its leader in Lok Sabha, Bhartuhari Mahatab, has said that his party "will not join the chorus of Congress."
On the Land Bill, the BJD is willing to offer support if the Modi government accepts its proposal of making those who lose land
partners in business and commercial projects. In connection with the Vyapam scam, the BJD has also demanded the resignation of the petroleum minister if the allegations against him prove correct.
Aam Aadmi Party's Dharmveer Gandhi is also opposed to the Land Bill, and he wants a Supreme Court-monitored investigation into the roles of Swaraj and Raje into the Lalit Modi scandal, but the lawmaker from Punjab does not back the Congress Party's plan to block parliament.
"I would not like to block as has been done by the BJP and adopted by the Congress. They are just doing drama.
Debating these issues freely and frankly is the right approach," he told HuffPost India. "Both these parties have no real enmity or contradiction. They are both pro-corporates and they oppose for the sake of opposing."
Responding to whether the Congress Party has strategised with other parties on how to lead the charge against the BJP, Tiwari said: "There is a natural floor coordination when there are such serious charges to be answered. The government will have to make an extra effort to show that they are sensitive to what the public is saying."
Business Standard reported that there have been multiple meetings in recent days between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and CPIM general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
In the days leading up to the monsoon session, the BJP reiterated its resolute support for its leaders. Political analysts say that its uncompromising position is hurting the Modi government's chances of finding solutions to bigger challenges like building consensus on the Land Bill.
PTI has reported that out of 672 representations received by the Joint Committee of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, which is scrutinising the bill, 670 have opposed the amendments in the land bill, particularly the move to drop the consent clause and do away with the social impact survey.
Misra says Modi is probably not convinced by his own party's line of defence. "This is just a facade. No one knows what Mr. Modi is really thinking. Even Arun Jaitley does not know," he said.
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