Amitabha Bhattacharya In a parliamentary democracy, the Opposition has a crucial role to play. More so in a multi-party democracy where each party, regional or national, represents specific interests of a substantial number of people. Instead of lamenting, therefore, over the seats won, every party should devise its own strategy to be more productive and purposeful, instead of being merely combative. Admittedly, the Opposition is meant to oppose. But should such action, irrespective of the political hue, be reduced primarily to obstructing or delaying the purported moves of the government? Despite outstanding contributions by individual stalwarts, the collective conduct of the Opposition parties over the decades has left much to be desired. The ideal of constructive criticism is increasingly losing its significance. Since the ruling party or alliance forms the government, obtaining less than half the votes polled, it has the primary responsibility to seek the cooperation of all other parties, if the professed objective of sabka saath,sabka vikas,sabka vishwas is to be realised. Though it is inevitable, even desirable, to have some degree of tension between the two for ensuring the government’s accountability to Parliament, and through it, to the people, the Treasury Bench has to be proactive in seeking the support of those on the other side, without ‘otherising’ them. Herein lies the dialectic. While the government’s success or failure can be broadly assessed against the promises made, how would the performance of the Opposition formations be measured? Can the latter face the electorate five years later arguing how they have succeeded in thwarting government actions and intentions? On the contrary, would it not be preferable for them to tell the people how, because of the sustained pressure exerted by them from the grassroots up to the parliamentary level, the broad national goals could be achieved. Such a positive approach can goad the government to stick to the desired path of inclusive development and would eventually help the political outfits face the electorate later with confidence. To be able to do this, some new practices may be considered. Identify broad areas of convergence, of minor divergence and those of clear divergence or conflict, in that order. Once this is done in a meeting of all parties, the degree and intensity of cooperation should be calibrated and, accordingly, different courses of action chalked out. The first category should be the most pervasive and include actions – divided into legislative and executive components – on issues such as sustainable job-led growth, elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality, improved access to quality education and healthcare, fiscal consolidation and inflation control, accelerated creation of physical infrastructure, enhancing state capacity through reforms in civil services and judiciary, etc. More contentious issues on which party positions differ moderately or substantially can be clubbed under the second and third categories and pursued accordingly. Once these intentions are articulated, the government will also be compelled to strategise accordingly. Concentrate on criticising policies and actions therefrom, not individuals. Parliamentary criticism should focus more on the former from which the latter would flow. Much of our failures emanate from ill-conceived and unimplementable legislations and policies. Attempts should, therefore, be made to focus on those infirmities with a view to addressing the lacunae and rectifying them. On the other hand, if the attack becomes more personal in nature, the main problems get trivialised and the basic objective of the debate often gets derailed. Attacking the individual instead of the cause may get more publicity but often achieves nothing. Besides, sensationalising issues and magnifying omissions or minor commissions do not yield the desired results. A balanced, nuanced and prioritised approach, based on homework, that would keep the government careful and alert, may turn out to be more effective. Wild criticisms are not always more effective than the mild.
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