|After four consecutive unproductive sessions defined by walkouts and adjournments, and spanning over 18 months, legislators got more work done in the monsoon session that concluded on September 6. But the roots of the reasons for this turnaround lie less in a selfless change of heart, and more in the political calculus of the day, where the self-interest of every major political constituency dictated that Parliament do business.
"It was an unholy convergence of different motives," says political commentator Yogendra Yadav, who is also a member of the Aam Aadmi Party. For the Congress-led UPA, its main motive also became its masterstroke. In the lead up to the 2014 elections, it wanted two legislations — the food security and land acquisition bills.
"Our strategy on this was clear," says a veteran Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity. "Either, you come on board and reach a consensus with the amendments suggested, or face the public." It also helped the Congress that the tag of 'disrupters' was beginning to stick to the BJP, the main opposition party.
"We thought it was better to corner the government instead of stalling the session," Arun Jaitley, leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, said at a press conference on Saturday. Two, the BJP is betting on the lag between a bill being passed and its benefits reaching people. "It takes almost a year-and-a-half for a bill to convert to actual benefits," says Yadav.
When it came to reaching out for support, the fissures in the BJP caused by the elevation of Narendra Modi played into the hands of the Congress. To capitalise on these cracks, Congress leaders — led by Kamal Nath, the parliamentary affairs minister since October 2012 — fanned out to apply tactical pressure and garner support.
"It meant having separate parleys with different factions, appealing to different leaders for different bills," a Congress leader said. So, for example, Yashwant Sinha was the pressure point for the pension bill, it was Rajnath Singh for the land bill. In general, in this session, the Congress reached out to opposition parties more.
For example, on September 3, on the eve of his departure for the G-20 summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted Swaraj and Jaitley at a dinner meeting. He even reached out to LK Advani to ensure the house functioned while he was gone. "It has been a tough job, but it has been a fruitful session, with some crucial bills passed, and constructive debates, with members sitting late into the night," Nath told ET on Friday.
Rajiv Shukla, P Chidambaram and Sandeep Dikshit were some other Congress leaders who were actively involved in backroom discussions in what, in all probability, was the penultimate full session of this government. Originally scheduled for 25 days, this session was extended by seven days. "The forthcoming polls and this being almost the last session, added with the momentum of the pending bills...is what led to action in the last leg," says N Madhavan of PRS Legislative Research, an independent research firm that tracks Parliament.
In all, of the 43 bills listed for passage, 12 went through. According to PRS, this Lok Sabha has passed 151 bills. By comparison, previous governments that have had a minimum three-year stint have averaged 317 bills. Also, the speed of passage worries Yadav.