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Nervous Beginning

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that some historic decisions would be taken during the ongoing Parliament session has sent shivers up the opposition’s collective spine. Ostensibly, the occasion is celebrating 75 years of the Indian Parliament’s existence. The MPs are also bidding adieu to the old parliamentary building of British times and will shift into the newly constructed one on Tuesday. This has evoked considerable nostalgia and tributes were paid by the PM and opposition leaders to the many who contributed to the 75 historic years of Indian democracy, not just the MPs, but the staff, security personnel, journalists, etc.

Not unexpectedly, the speeches were not entirely upbeat and the underlying political bitterness shone through. While even the Prime Minister could not resist making a sharp comment or two, Congress party leaders in both houses almost entirely focused on denigrating the present government and claiming all the good that has happened was due to the remarkable leadership of its prime ministers.

The worry is that, in his usual way, Prime Minister Modi will come up with something unexpected to take a major political advantage during this session. There are a number of bills slated to be passed but the agenda has not been completely revealed. Some believe the ‘historic decision’ could involve passage of a bill on women’s reservation in parliament. This is why the demand for it was raised by the Congress in the bid to take credit in pre-emptive fashion. Clarity on this will come soon enough.

There are certainly some changes that the Indian parliamentary system awaits. Fresh delimitation is required to ensure proper representation, which would logically follow the delayed census. Ensuring adequate representation for the more prosperous southern states whose population numbers have dropped is also necessary. Women’s reservation has been delayed because inclusion of the OBCs as a sub-category has been insisted upon by certain caste based parties. The demand for a caste census is based on the desire to take reservation beyond the present fifty percent in the legislatures and government jobs. Several parties intend to make this a big issue in the coming elections. The strategy of the INDI Alliance is already evident regarding promotion of caste identity, while denigrating Hindu religious identity. The government is fully aware of these challenges so may well be considering some outflanking maneuver(s). Whatever be the case, the shift to the new building will mark the beginning of a new era for Indian democracy.