The Gujarat Assembly elections have been in the middle of controversy after controversy even before they were announced — or not announced.
Now, it seems the BJP is looking to do away with the entire Winter session of Parliament in order to gain more traction in Gujarat — the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
If that happens, the Opposition — both in the state and the Centre — will have fresh fodder to corner the saffron party, which is already under fire for demonetisation, lack of job data (which the other parties have been citing to show the government's inability to generate employment) and the alleged rise of saffron extremism in the name of cow protection.
No Winter session?
The BJP had then been accused of using the Election Commission of India (ECI) for political gain: The saffron party is in power in Gujarat, and political rivals have claimed that it gained from the delay in the ECI announcing the Gujarat Assembly elections and used the delay to announce some big-ticket projects before the model code of conduct set in.
Now, it seems that the Winter session of Parliament is being delayed inordinately, and may not even take place as Gujarat goes to polls in two phases — on December 9 and December 14.
The Parliament rules state that the date of a House session must be announced 15 days in advance. With no such announcement coming till the evening of November 9, there is every chance that the month-long Winter session may be shortened, if not entirely scrapped.
However, there is also the chance of the Winter session beginning quite late, as happened in 2015. The session had begun on November 26 then. If the Central government does something similar this time, it has till November 11 to announce the beginning of the session.
Queered pitch in Gujarat
The perception is that the BJP is looking to delay or scrap the Winter session of Parliament because it does not want the Gujarat elections to be affected by the issues that the Opposition parties in Parliament — issues that it believes could colour the judgement of voters on December 9 and December 14.
The battle for Gujarat have always been one of prestige for the BJP, but it is even more important now because of Hardik Patel — the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader who has queered the pitch by demanding reservation for Patels in schools and offices. Patels form more than 40 percent of the population in Gujarat.
On the other hand, there seems to be a resurgent Rahul Gandhi, with his newfound sense of humour and an increasing number of social media followers. Many of the followers may have since been exposed as fake, but the BJP seems to be perceiving the threat as quite real.
Meanwhile, the Central government's delay in announcing the Winter session has raised the hackles of many political rivals of the BJP.
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien had on October 30 written on Twitter: "Can we expect dates for Winter Session of Parliament to be announced today? Anyone listening?"
Can we expect dates for Winter Session of Parliament to be announced today ? Anyone listening ?— Derek O'Brien (@quizderek) October 30, 2017
He had been quoted by NDTV as saying on November 2: "I don't know why the government is so cagey about dates. It may be a good idea to make a parliament calendar at the start of the year, so the dates become sacrosanct."
Even BJP leader Yashwant Sinha had reacted to the possibility of the Winter session being postponed. The former Union minister had written on Twitter on November 3: "It will be a sad day for Indian democracy if the winter session of Parliament is postponed on account of Gujarat elections."
It will be a sad day for Indian democracy if the winter session of Parliament is postponed on account of Gujarat elections.— Yashwant Sinha (@YashwantSinha) November 3, 2017
Congress leader Anand Sharma — another former Union minister — was quoted by a Scroll report as saying: "The prime minister is running away from Parliament and debates. He is scared to face Parliament before the Gujarat elections. What is happening is an assault on democracy."