When it comes to calling a spade a spade, Congress leader Narayan Rane is always at his vocal best. One of the finest Opposition leaders in Maharashtra, before he joined the Vilasrao Deshmukh Cabinet a decade ago, Rane has assessed the performance of his party leaders in the Monsoon Session as dismal. He said the Opposition leaders sat through the session as if they were listening to a religious discourse and that despite having so much at their disposal to corner the BJP-led government, the Opposition benches, especially Congress legislators, could do little to trouble the BJP.
“If I were there, I would not have allowed the session to run,” Rane had said at a press conference when the session was in progress.
I also said in these columns on July 13, Day One of the Monsoon session, that the focus would shift to the Opposition, especially Congressman and Leader of the Opposition, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who had threatened to expose the BJP with videotapes of a sting operation of three BJP ministers during the session.
The session began in the backdrop of corruption charges against BJP ministers. The Congress and NCP were euphoric then and behaved as if they had already pushed the government to the wall. But, after three weeks, the Opposition has returned empty-handed. They accused the BJP of using brute force to denying them justice. They will have to wait four more months for the next session of the year to be held in Nagpur from December 7. They say they will go to the people to teach BJP a lesson.
The BJP, undoubtedly, was under stress, but escaped embarrassment, thanks to the Opposition’s weak strategy and meek presentation. It happened despite the Congress having parliamentary experts like Prithviraj Chavan, Manikrao Thakre, Shivajirao Deshmukh, Patangrao Kadam and Sanjay Dutt in its legislative affairs committee, a special body formed ahead of the session. The Nationalist Congress Party did pledge support to the Congress, but gave up immediately after the Congress tied up with the BJP in the Gondia Zilla Parishad. The Congress seniors have not been able to break the alliance that was forged at the local level in the eastern Vidarbha district. It was BJP’s first masterstroke that split the former ruling partners and the sour relations had its effect on both houses. The Congress and NCP did not really patch up to launch a frontal attack on the BJP.
The Opposition did sit on a dharna for three days in succession before the NCP backed out. The sight of big leaders shouting slogans and holdings placards was something to remember, because they had been moving around in red beacon cars for the past 15 years and reeked of sheer arrogance then.
Having caused a split in the Opposition, the BJP’s mastermind and Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, took off his gloves and rammed into the Congress-NCP bogie with utmost ease. He was liberal in issuing veiled threats that the Congress-NCP would be probed for corruption in the past. He blamed erstwhile governments for every charge that his government and ministers faced. His convincing speech on farmers’ suicide, which primarily dealt with the faults the Congress-NCP committed to aggravate the crisis, went unchallenged. He did not declare a farm loan waiver as demanded by the Opposition, but came out with an unexpected long-term package for farmers. The BJP even passed some bills in absence of the Opposition.
At times, Fadnavis forced the Shiv Sena, which upped the ante by tacitly supporting the Opposition, into submission. He maimed the Sena on the last day by ordering a probe into the shoddy nullah-cleaning job done by the BMC in Mumbai.
The BJP also rendered the Congress and the NCP helpless using some tactics that did not deserve any appreciation. It engineered stalling of the house by interrupting debates initiated by its own members. It even allowed its legislators to display placards that showed its own government in poor light.
At the end of the session, late on Friday evening, the Opposition cribbed relentlessly against the BJP’s high-handedness. Unfazed, the BJP came out smiling to show the people that it had managed to get 18 out of 23 bills passed in both Houses.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day