Boycott politics

The BJP's decision not to talk to the home minister only makes it look petulant

The BJP's announcement of a "boycott" of Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, for his remarks on alleged acts of terror by Hindu extremists, reeks of deja vu. The BJP has been here before. It refused to speak to the then home minister P. Chidambaram for an entire parliamentary session in 2011, alleging his involvement in the 2G scam. In an argumentative democracy, it should be seen as a sobering moment when the main opposition party decides to privilege petulance over engagement. Certainly, the home minister's remarks were loosely articulated, and he may have stepped over some lines while addressing a party forum at Jaipur. But instead of using the opportunity to mount a coherent political fightback, the BJP has unfortunately decided again to go into a sulk.

The Congress has also deployed the politics of boycott and "untouchability" in the past, as when it refused to speak to the then defence minister George Fernandes. But the BJP, arguably, has more experience on this score. It was at the receiving end in the mid-1990s, treated as un-coalitionable by other parties. Yet, so many years down the line, having established itself as the centrepiece of the formidable NDA that has ruled at the Centre, it still doesn't appear to have learnt a crucial lesson: mature political players don't stop talking, and the only way out of seemingly intractable issues in a diverse democracy is through a political give-and-take, a robust back-and-forth. In the upcoming budget session, all parties, those on the treasury benches as well as those in the opposition, will be called upon to address serious issues, apart from the budget, like the shape and powers of the proposed Lok Pal or the contours of the new law on sexual assault. The BJP has said that it will not disturb the proceedings when the home minister speaks in the House. But can it promise that its decision to not be on talking terms with him will not come in the way of fulfilling its responsibilities as the main opposition party on national issues in a crucial parliamentary session?

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