PM’s outreach in the House | Magzentine Editorial

Modi’s attempt to convey personal warmth and show that politics need not just be contentious is a good step. But, at the same time, his emotive farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad is laced with political symbolism

UPDATED ON FEB 11, 2021 06:34 AM IST

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi bid farewell to four retiring members of the Rajya Sabha, including senior Congress leader, former Union minister and the leader of the Opposition in the House, Ghulam Nabi Azad. The PM broke down while tracing his own relationship with Mr Azad, in particular the time when as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Azad had called Mr Modi, who was then Gujarat chief minister, to inform him about the terror attack on Gujarati tourists in the Valley.

The episode can be read in two ways. For one — and this is laudable — it indicates that despite the bitter political exchanges that mark proceedings in the House or on television screens during debates, there remains personal warmth and camaraderie between top leaders across the spectrum. A degree of elite harmony is essential for the smooth functioning of democratic institutions. As personal relations have become a victim of political rivalries, Indian democracy has suffered, polarisation has deepened, ugliness has seeped into the discourse, and government-Opposition communication and trust have broken down. Mr Modi’s attempt to convey personal warmth and show that politics need not just be contentious is a good step.

But, at the same time, there appears to be a political subtext in the PM’s outreach. At a time when there is a deepening Hindu-Muslim communal rift as well as trust deficit between the Indian State and the Kashmiri street, was the PM reaching out to Azad — a tall nationalist Muslim leader from Jammu and Kashmir — to send a broader signal of reconciliation to minorities in Kashmir and beyond? At a time when relations between the treasury and Opposition benches are bitter, was the PM — by referring to not just Mr Azad but also speaking of Sharad Pawar with respect — sending a message to the House to find a new mechanism to work together? And at a time when Mr Azad is a prominent dissenter within the Congress, and he remains active politically, was the PM encouraging the G-23, as the group of dissident letter writers in the Congress has come to be known, to persist? Irrespective of motivation, Parliament was enriched by a rare display of cordiality.

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