With the conclusion of the last session of the 17th Lok Sabha on Saturday, the bugle has been sounded and the battle lines drawn for the general election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mounted a sharp attack on the Congress and its leaders in his various interventions during the session, while avoiding criticism of any of the regional parties or their leaders. After the unprecedented suspension of 146 members during the winter session, the last session began on a more cheerful note. All members were back in the House, including the 14 Members of Parliament (MP) whose cases were referred to the privilege committees of the two Houses. The committees cleared their names, just ahead of the session. But Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP and leader Sanjay Singh, who was recently reelected to the Upper House, could not take oath on the ground that the breach of privilege cases against him moved in his previous term are still pending. The Rajya Sabha privileges committee has not even scheduled a meeting.
The session was extended by a day to debate a resolution on the Ram Temple. The Left parties were the only ones to take a clear stand in their boycott by announcing that they would not be a party to any communal agenda. The other Opposition parties, not willing to invite any controversy, came up with different reasons to stay away. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, in the Lok Sabha, cited the plight of Tamil fishermen, and, in the Rajya Sabha, focused on the Centre’s indifference towards the destruction caused by flooding in the State to stay away from the proceedings. The Trinamool Congress and AAP MPs were not to be seen. The last five years have been unprecedented in Indian parliamentary history. Parliament shifted to newer and much larger precincts, amid criticism of its design, from the British-era building. Paradoxically, just as parliamentarians got more room, the 17th Lok Sabha witnessed the continuous erosion of the role of the Opposition. In a first, the Lok Sabha functioned without a Deputy Speaker — a post that is conventionally occupied by the Opposition — for the entire term. The five years were also marked by a steady decline in the Opposition’s bench strength in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress has only 30 members in the Upper House, far behind the 93 members from the Bharatiya Janata Party. The government had its way and say, while the Opposition spent time on the sidelines.