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18th Lok Sabha: Om Birla 2.0, emergency attack and working with ‘shehzada,’ will Modi govt’s approach in Parliament remain the same?

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The highlight of the 18th Lok Sabha on Wednesday was the appointment of Speaker of the Lower House with Om Birla continuing the role, allowing Prime Minister Modiled NDA government to win the first battle of numbers on the floor. Despite tough resistance from the INDIA bloc, the Opposition did not press for a division of votes a candid admission of lack of numbers on their side.

The shocking results on June 4 led to speculations regarding a possible change in the power matrix in the Parliament due to the change in the number of seats that BJP and NDA hold. AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi reflected the opinion of many in the opposition camp when he said today that the ruling BJP will not be able to “steamroll” the opposition as the character of the House has changed in the new Lok Sabha.

With the BJP failing to secure a majority on its own, the number dynamics in the Lower House has indeed changed. Prime Minister Modi is now dependent on allies for his government’s survival. Has the 18th Lok Sabha poll results led to any change in how the Parliament functions, well, the answer is both “yes” and “no.”

A look into the changes in the Modi government in the Parliament: Om Birla 2.0:

The first battle that the Modi government won was the appointment of speaker of its choice. The appointment of Om Birla as Speaker of Lok Sabha had the stamp of authority which was a trademark of both Modi 1.0 and Modi 2.0. With the firm support of allies, the government did not let the opposition dictate terms on the Speaker’s election and refused to enter into any negotiations over the choice of deputy speaker. The opposition wanted the deputy speaker’s post, but the government sent out a clear message to them. “First, you support Speaker’s election, and after that, we can discuss about the Deputy Speaker.” The stalemate ensured an election for Lok Sabha Speaker something that had happened only three times till now in 1952, 1967, and 1976. Rahul Gandhi will not just be ‘Shehzada’ The biggest change in Parliament that will be for Prime Minister Modi will be his relation with Rahul Gandhi. In the last 10 years, PM Modi has referred to the Congress leader as Shehzada. However, the changed number dynamics have now made the former Congress chief an integral part of the government’s functioning for the first time. We saw the first glimpse of this today when Rahul accompanied PM Modi to escort Om Birla to the Speaker’s chair.

Rahul Gandhi is not just ‘shehzada’ for PM Modi now as the Congress leader will be part of several parliamentary bodies and panels for key appointments that are headed by the Prime Minister. Rahul may still not have a say in their functioning, but he will be privy to all the discussions.

Emergency to counter ‘Save Constitution’ attack?The BJP has been using the emergency of 1975 for the longest time to attack Congress, but the new campaign by the ruling government by evoking the dark days ahead of the Parliament session is seen as a counter move to the INDIA bloc’s “Save Constitution” campaign. With Speaker Om Birla joining the government in attacking Emergency, the opposition’s hopes of any perceptible change in the government’s functioning due to reduced numbers may remain just that.

Is the BJP still the boss? As the BJP failed to cross the majority mark, the party had to rely on NDA allies to form the government at the centre. When PM Modi took oath for a record third term in office, the belief was that allies, especially Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) would walk away with plum portfolios in bargain for their crucial support to run Modi 3.0.

The BJP has not yielded too much space to allies and has kept almost all the important portfolios to itself. The big four Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman and Jaishankar were seen returning by holding their important ministries.

Modi 2.0=Modi 3.0?Modi 3.0 has been marked by continuity, unlike Modi 2.0 when change was perhaps the only constant. Prime Minister Modi has retained most of his top ministers and even his top officers. He has also not changed the portfolios of key ministers. The choice of Speaker also signalled this spirit of continuity.

The continuity is in contrast to the second term when Prime Minister Modi returned to power with an overwhelming majority of 303 seats, and his Cabinet and council of ministers saw several changes. In 2019, the BJP selected Om Birla as Speaker replacing Sumitra Mahajan who presided over Lok Sabha during Modi 1.0.

Balance on policy issuesAnd while the BJP imprint has been strong till now, the saffron party will have to tread a cautious path when it will come to the policies of Modi 3.0. Even before the countours of government was finalised, allies went public with their reservations on the Agniveer scheme, which was a flagship policy of Modi 2.0. The caste census is another issue on which the allies would have a different perspective. During campaigning, the BJP had teared into the Congress over reservations given to Muslims in Karnataka. However, in TDP, the BJP has an ally which openly supports the idea and is all set to implement it in Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP is emphasizing continuity under Modi 3.0, akin to his previous terms, asserting stability and routine governance. The upcoming Budget might introduce incentives, additional grants, or potentially a special category status for Andhra Pradesh under Chandrababu Naidu and Bihar under Nitish Kumar. These concessions hold significant importance for Naidu and Nitish, potentially outweighing their leverage at the central level. By maintaining unity within the NDA, the BJP retains the ability to assert dominance over the opposition, reminiscent of its authority over the past decade.

(with ToI inputs)