New Delhi, June 28: Narendra Modi today told his party’s first-time MPs that getting elected was “important” but moving from the Opposition to the Treasury benches was a “significant transition” whose meaning they “must try to appreciate”.
Along with a prod not to speak out of turn to the media or air differences publicly, the comments seemed partly an effort to prime the members for the upcoming budget session that may witness a few unpopular measures.
The Prime Minister told the 161 rookie MPs from the Lok Sabha and 18 from the Rajya Sabha that, like them, he too was a first-timer in Parliament who was “undergoing training in the Prime Minister’s Office”.
He asked the MPs to treat the Parliament rulebook as “the Bhagvad Gita”.
“Remember, people are observing your performance in the House and even outside. Our transition from the Opposition to the Treasury benches is not limited to moving a few feet to the other side,” a BJP handout quoted him as saying.
The shift from the Opposition to government is one of the biggest tests parties face when they win elections the first time or after a long stint out of power. One criticism Mamata Banerjee routinely faces is that despite her overwhelming mandate, she has failed to outgrow some traits that are assets in an Opposition role but liabilities when in government.
Modi, who recently flagged the “big challenge” of convincing “a select group” within and without the government about “our intentions to bring a positive change”, may have had the specific context of the budget session in mind.
For the Vajpayee government, one headache was the discordant notes that rose from the Treasury benches as soon as the railway and general budgets were presented.
Since MPs are expected to fight for the interests of their constituency, any perceived neglect of a region in a budget, which is a balancing act amid conflicting pulls and pressures, often prompts members to let off steam in the House.
By stressing that the MPs must make the transition from an Opposition mindset to that of a governing group, Modi seemed to be nudging his party not to get carried away by such urges.
Another possible area of concern for him could be the craving among some public figures to be seen in the middle of popular protests.
Although no BJP member took an aggressive public stand on the just-ended Delhi University standoff, Sangh-linked student wing ABVP’s high-voltage campaign to roll back the four-year undergraduate programme was seen to have been blessed by the BJP leadership.
Modi has not yet revealed his stand on the mess but the interference in an autonomous institution’s functioning does not sit well with his slogan of “minimum government and maximum governance”.
The high-profile controversy, which has brought his government praise and flak in equal measure, seemed the background for Modi’s advice to the MPs not to get “disillusioned over small issues because there is no full stop in politics”.
His comments came at the inauguration of a two-day party workshop for the new MPs at a hotel in Haryana’s Surajkund. The event was out of bounds for the media, except for a photo-op at the start.
Modi’s address underlined his tendency to keep the media at a distance, as manifest in his years as Gujarat chief minister when he mostly communicated through Facebook, Twitter, blogs or video messages.
He implored the MPs to “stay far” from the media and try to master the social media to handle controversies.
He told the MPs their approach to parliamentary work must be one of “mutuality and camaraderie” that must extend to saving each other’s phone numbers, cultivating new friends and staying in touch even when the House was not in session.
He spelt out two common goals. “Just like we made the Centre nearly Congress-mukt (Congress-free), the same thing has to be repeated whenever Assembly elections are taking place,” he said.
From a long-term perspective, the “goal” was to restore the people’s “bharosa (confidence) in the government and its systems and politics.
Modi said he expected his MPs to attend Parliament regularly, make “brief but focused” speeches, ask the right questions, raise matters of “urgent public importance” in Zero Hour, develop expertise in a few subjects, and “reflect deeply” on what constituency-related matters they must flag instead of bringing up trivial ones.