It is always easier, and maybe more exciting, to follow a bad example. The Congress, outdone and cornered, has found the Bharatiya Janata Party an excellent model in this respect. The BJP went to town to block the United Progressive Alliance government on the insurance laws (amendment) bill in 2008; the Congress has obviously found that enough reason to do the same to the BJP now that the latter, cosily ensconced at the head of government, is looking, like its predecessor, to raise the ceiling of foreign direct investment in insurance to 49 per cent from the present 26. The BJP insists it is the “UPA bill” with 11 changes; the Congress says it needs to know the ramifications of those changes. The Congress, alongside other parties with whom the former leading party would love to build bridges, wants the bill to go to a select committee for review. It is not even trying to present objections on principle, premise or philosophy. The party says it does not understand why the BJP cannot wait another two months since it has waited all these years. The subtext says the Congress will probably go with the bill — it was the UPA’s, after all — but after certain rituals have been completed. Meanwhile, it will also enjoy giving the BJP a bit of its own medicine.
If comparisons could be made among parties on this merry-go-round of puerility, the Congress comes out worse than the BJP, although the latter in opposition had been almost honour bound to block, tooth and nail, anything a governing formation proposed. But the fact that insurance amendment was originally the Congress’s baby now makes Congress’s own recalcitrance look silly. Besides, for a party that has been in governance in an evolving democracy for far longer than the BJP has, these tantrums are just frivolous. Democracy is not about political one-upmanship within the walls of Parliament. Who is the Congress serving? It may need the alliance of other parties opposed to the BJP and to the bill, but to gain that it should choose positive strategies, not latch on to a negative one. Carving out an opposition space will not be easy for any party. It may hurt the Congress’s dignity that it has to fight for it. But a serious effort to build a meaningful opposition would be far more dignified than irresponsible blocking. The Congress should try to redeem itself from silliness.