|The BJP is getting a taste of its own medicine, forced to watch Parliament adjourn several days in the past week over a foul-mouthed minister and the discord now spreading to the fate of the Planning Commission.
The sense of deja vu is broken by one difference: the key players have reversed their roles with an element of nuanced repositioning.
The combined Opposition is doing to the BJP what the then main Opposition party had done to the Congress-led UPA: disrupt the proceedings in the House over one controversy or the other and hold up law-making.
The Congress tonight appeared adamant about a censure motion as a condition to allow normal business in the Rajya Sabha. The stalemate is likely to spill over to this week unless the government succeeds in breaking Opposition unity.
Consensus also eluded Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a meeting of chief ministers where the proposal to dismantle the plan panel was discussed. At the end of the day, support for and opposition to the proposal to scrap the Planning Commission appeared evenly balanced.
In the House stand-off, the words that are being hurled at each other sound like replays of broken records. "The crisis is a creation of the government," Anand Sharma, Congress deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, told The Telegraph.
The statement is not much different from what the BJP used to say when it blocked House business, citing scams. The drumbeat is the same but the context this time is different.
Sharma was referring to the abusive remarks of Niranjan Jyoti, the minister of state for food processing, at a meeting in Delhi. The controversy united the Opposition and triggered waves of uproar in Parliament last week.
"Such an outrageous remark is made and the Prime Minister is not ready for even a formal condemnation. We stick to our position, reflected in the joint statement issued by the Opposition parties," Sharma added.
Congress leaders insisted the Opposition had shown reasonableness by dropping the demand for the dismissal of the minister but the government had acted with obduracy by rejecting a proposal for the censure motion.
Last week, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said his party would not be handing a "blank cheque" to the Narendra Modi government even if the Congress backed its reforms-facilitating bills in Parliament. "God and the devil lie in the details. We will examine the clauses... and not behave irresponsibly like the BJP," Singhvi said.
During the past 10 years, the BJP had mostly opposed the then Congress-led government's legislative measures just for opposition's sake, hardly ever nuancing its stand like Singhvi did.
Its attitude found expression in a statement by Sushma Swaraj, Lok Sabha Opposition leader during the UPA's second innings and much more voluble in the House then than now in her capacity as external affairs minister. In 2012, when Sushma's party disrupted the monsoon session, her justification was: "Not allowing Parliament to function is also a form of democracy."
She had reminded Manmohan Singh that when he was the Rajya Sabha Opposition leader and Atal Bihari Vajpayee the Prime Minister, the Congress had stalled Parliament over the Tehelka expose on defence deals and the "coffin scam".
It has become a vicious cycle now: the Congress disrupts when the BJP rules, the BJP disrupts when the Congress rules....
The upshot: From 600 working days for the first Lok Sabha (1952 to 1957), the figure dropped to slightly over 300 days for the 14th Lok Sabha (May 2004 to May 2009) and a little over 200 days for the 15th Lok Sabha (May 2009 to May 2014), according to PRS Legislative Research, an independent initiative that has tracked the functioning of Parliament.
While the Lok Sabha spent 123 hours each year discussing the budget in the 1950s, it was 39 hours in the past decade.
The big casualties of the BJP's obstructions were the bills to enhance the FDI cap in insurance from 29 to 49 per cent and to roll out the goods and services tax (GST) regime.
The Modi government is working overtime to see these bills through. Its exertions prodded Singhvi to recall that it was Modi who had, as Gujarat chief minister, put his foot down on the GST. "The BJP's opposition to the GST was irresponsible, petty and against the public interest," Singhvi said.
By February 2014, when it was apparent that he was a contender for Prime Minister in the coming elections, Modi declared at a Delhi economic forum that he favoured bringing in the GST. A section of economists feels that the GST can spur the growth rate by 1 or 2 per cent by snuffing out superfluous taxes.
With the benefit of hindsight, BJP sources are now attributing the blockades to three reasons.
One, L.K. Advani's policy fuzziness emanating from "a sense of feeling cheated out of power (in 2004)". Two, his protégé Sushma's constant endeavour to "prove" herself at her job as the Opposition leader so that her Rajya Sabha peer, Arun Jaitley, wouldn't "overshadow" her.
Three, former finance and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha's keenness on rubbishing reforms. He apparently "hugely" influenced Advani and Sushma, sources said.
The ongoing abuse controversy illustrates how parties merrily adopt each other's strategies when their position on the power pole changes.
The BJP-led government's counter-strategy carries echoes of what the UPA did in an attempt to break the logjams during its rule. When fingers were pointed at A. Raja in the telecom scandal, insinuations were made that he was being targeted because he hailed from a weaker section.
Last week, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi's turn, while disapproving of Jyoti's remarks, to refer to the minister's background.
A senior Congress leader said tonight: "The Prime Minister said the minister should be forgiven because of her humble background. This is a dangerous logic. Does the Prime Minister mean people with humble backgrounds naturally spread communal poison? It is not about language, it is about communal bias and sectarian politics."
Even if the Congress wants to tone down its stand, it cannot afford to do so as disruption has come to be seen as the hallmark of a "responsible and responsive" Opposition - a view that the BJP cannot absolve itself of nurturing while it was in the Opposition in the past 10 years.
Most Opposition parties have now made this part of a joint strategy. In the previous parliamentary session, the Congress looked almost isolated. The Congress now thinks this is an ideal issue to bring the secular parties together.
The Congress is also accusing the Modi government of not taking the Opposition into confidence - a charge that was levelled at the Manmohan Singh government by the then Opposition.
The Congress's Sharma slammed the Prime Minister's decision to discuss the future of the Planning Commission almost four months after "unilaterally" announcing the decision to dismantle it. "It is ironic that the Prime Minister has claimed, that, the move is to empower the state governments and strengthen the federal structure, after having taken the arbitrary decision without convening the meeting of National Development Council nor consulting the states," Sharma said.
The moral: when you oppose, remember it may soon be your turn to propose.