Just before the current Budget session began in the third week of February, the big question before policy-makers was how the government would overcome the legislative logjam it faced in view of its lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha. As Parliament went into its scheduled recess from March 21 for about a month, the thought of a legislative logjam that had unnerved many in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government appears to be less of a worry.
Yes, the controversial land acquisition ordinance may well be allowed to lapse and a fresh Bill will be required to be introduced once Parliament resumes after the recess. And make no mistake that this is going to be a significant political setback. But take a close look at the government's overall achievement in Parliament in the last few weeks and you will realise that it also has reasons to pat itself on the back.
The government had got as many as six ordinances promulgated by the President before the current session began. This was unusual for a government that enjoyed a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. What forced the government to get those ordinances promulgated was its desire to implement some of its promised reforms, undeterred by its failure to hold any meaningful discussion on those six legislative Bills in Parliament, let alone get them passed by it. Nevertheless, the prospects of these ordinances looked bleak in view of the government's lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha. Also complicating matters was the manner in which the few Opposition members, aided ironically by some controversial statements from some ruling party members, hijacked the agenda of discussion in the Lok Sabha through disruptions and other methods in the winter session of Parliament.
Remember that all these ordinances were important. Apart from the one on facilitating land acquisition for projects, the five other ordinances pertained to laying down norms for coal block auctions and allowing commercial mining of coal by the private sector, reforming the system of mining and allotment of leases through auctions, including the setting up of a regulator, raising the foreign investment limit in insurance ventures to 49 per cent, bringing e-carts and e-rickshaws under the ambit of the motor vehicles law and relaxing the norms for granting Indian citizenship. Taken together, they constituted a heavy dose of legislative changes aimed at reforms. But given the Rajya Sabha's composition and the Opposition mood in the Lok Sabha, the path for all these ordinances to become laws looked full of thorns and extremely difficult.
The score before Parliament went into the recess, however, shows that the government has done rather well, having converted five of these ordinances into laws with very minor changes. In addition, the Lok Sabha passed amendments to the warehousing reforms law and an omnibus Bill to repeal 36 archaic laws. In terms of productivity, members of both the houses worked much more than the schedule. This was one of the best performances of Parliament in recent years.
How was this achieved? Credit for this turnaround must go to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's top leaders, in particular its finance minister Arun Jaitley, who recognised that the government's reformist credentials would be damaged if it did not make headway in converting the ordinances into laws passed by Parliament. Going by reports, the finance minister reached out to leaders in different political parties from the Opposition benches and explored various options to get over the legislative logjam. Negotiations were held with different leaders in groups and individually.
In other words, politics of give-and-take was back in vogue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also seen to be more accommodative while consulting with Opposition leaders outside the two houses. Indeed, the entire BJP top leadership presented a unified front to win over the Opposition and get as many of the ordinances and other Bills passed in both the houses. Even the Congress leaders admitted in private that the BJP leadership pitched themselves in these talks in a much more open way and were willing to concede and discuss.
In sharp contrast, the same leaders would note, the leaders of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the last few months of its second term would hardly try to reach out to the then Opposition leaders and overcome the legislative logjam they faced between 2012 and 2014. Nor could they present a unified front in such matters. That now turns out be one big differentiator between the UPA and the NDA.