When the nation was still grappling with the G20 excitement, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi made an announcement through a tweet on the August 31, 2023 afternoon – “Special Session of Parliament (13th Session of 17th Lok Sabha and 261st Session of Rajya Sabha) is being called from 18th to 22nd September having five sittings. Amid Amrit Kaal looking forward to having fruitful discussions and debate in Parliament”. Since then, everyone is speculating about the agenda for the special session. Is it a transition from the old Parliament to the new one? Will Government initiate the move for One Nation, One Election? The formation of the committee, under the leadership of former President Ramnath Kovind, suggests that a thorough scrutiny is contemplated for the move. Still, the call for early elections along with the forthcoming Assembly elections is a talking point for Luytens’ Delhi. From introduction the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) to renaming of the country as Bharat, all guesses are being circulated on the social media platforms. Opposition parties, busy preparing for their scheduled meet in Mumbai on October 1, 2023 got rattled with the announcement and for many this unsettlement was one of the objectives of the ‘special session’ announcement. The divided and undecided opposition about the leadership, logo and programme decided to question the Government over the move. Sonia Gandhi went to the extent of calling it ‘against the parliamentary tradition’. Pralhad Joshi replied back on behalf of the Government that it is as per the rules and regulations and agenda will be shared with the members of the Parliament for the G20 Summit.
“A committee has been formed to look into the issue. Why are Opposition parties worried, ‘One Nation, One Election’ is not going to happen tomorrow. The committee will talk and give a report which will be debated
in Parliament” — Pralhad Joshi, Parliamentary Affairs Minister
This is not the first time that the Modi-led NDA Government has kept everyone guessing about the move. The element of surprise and unpredictability is one of the hallmarks of the last nine years. While keeping the cards close to the chest, thorough preparations are made to make a swift move as per the articulated vision of the Government. The recently introduced three bills related to the Criminal Justice System, a major step towards reformation and decolonisation, is a case to study. Despite the bills being prepared with the inputs from various stakeholders, there was no clue to the media and the intermediary influencers about the entire exercise.
When in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, it was clear from the campaign trail itself that it is not going to be the another Government. While the Government has fulfilled the expected promises over the past two tenures, there have been many surprises too – and some of the expected decisions have also been delivered with a heavy surprise element. Now as the Government has announced a ‘Special Session of Parliament’ from September 18-22, media and political parties are once again busy speculating different possibilities.
As the historic G20 Summit is taking place in Delhi and till then the speculation about the special session of the Parliament will be the biggest talking point, it is worthwhile to go through the major decisions of the Modi-Government that kept the nation, especially the media, Luytens’ Delhi and the opposition guessing about the next move of the Government.
The fact of the matter is that the Narendra Modi Government has surprised everyone on many a times and political pundits have also failed to speculate the agenda of the Government. Against this background, Organiser recalls the few major surprise decisions of the Government in the last nine years.
Invitation to Neighbouring countries in oath ceremony
On May 16, 2014, after the high-voltage campaign when the BJP-led NDA got a massive mandate under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, foreign policy was seen as his weakest plank. How would a first time Member of Parliament would take up this gigantic task of reshaping the foreign policy agenda was a curiosity for everyone. For the people who were upset seeing Modi at the helm of affairs, this was the key area to corner him. His swearing -in ceremony and equations with the President Pranab Mukherjee was another part of that inquisitiveness. Before heading to the May 26 grand-swearing-in ceremony, Modi invited the heads of the Governments of all South Asian states (SAARC) to attend the event. This was unprecedented. Naturally, the guess work continued when his Government secured the second term with a bigger mandate. This time it was the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries, along with Mauritius, got the special invite for the May 30, 2029 mega event at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Both these initiatives were strong policy statements with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ approach.
Invitation to Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2014 that also to Ahmedabad, Gujarat and a public reception to a Chinese leader after six-decades turned out to be many-firsts visit; again, making Modi’s China policy guesswork for the experts.
Task force on Black Money
As the election campaign revolved around the anti-corruption plank, how and what would be the policy initiatives to curb corruption was the natural question. In the first Cabinet meeting itself, the Narendra Modi Government decided to constitute a Special Investigative Team (SIT) to to find ‘black money’, cash that has not been declared or taxed and is mostly deposited in foreign banks. The SIT was headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, M B Shah. The recommendations of the task force remained a guiding force for the Government for future policy measures but what would they be remained a guesswork for the media. International agencies also lauded the moves and implications of the same can be seen even now while addressing the cases like Vijay Mallya and Mehul Choksi.
Swachh Bharat Mission
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speeches have been strong statements on participatory governance. On August 15, 2014, while addressing his first Independence Day speech from the rampart of Red Fort, PM Narendra Modi gave a call for the Swachh Bharat Mission. Cleanliness and defecation-free Bharat became a clarion call. Though the mission resonated with the masses, opposition was cynical and critiques were skeptical. On October 2, 2014, commemorating the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, he unfolded the Mission with multiple programmes that involved everyone. Under the mission, all villages, Gram Panchayats, Districts, States and Union Territories in Bharat declared themselves “open-defecation free” (ODF) by October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, by constructing over 100 million toilets in rural India. All urban local bodies have also been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) and 70 per cent of solid waste is now being processed scientifically.
Mann Ki Baat
In the same month of October, when Mann Ki Baat was announced as a monthly programme, again it was a matter of head scratching exercise. Initially perceived as a monologue of the Prime Minister, the Radio-based, new experience eventually turned into a lively communication with the masses. Even after completing hundred episodes in April this year, Maan Ki Baat continues to be one of the most popular and highest revenue earning programme for the Akashwani (All India Radio). It has been amplifier of social changes like Swachh Bharat, Water conservation, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Vocal for Local etc., The programme has shown huge impact on the industries like Khadi, toy, startups in health, Ayurvedic products and space.
NITI Aayog & structural reforms
Though the opening year of 2014 had many surprises in the kitty, Modi Government started 2015 with a big-bang reform of transforming the Soviet-inspired, socialist era Planning Commission to the more dynamic National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, an apex policy think-tank of the Government. Again the media and economists were clueless about the move introduced on January 1, 2015. It was an indication for the tumultuous year ahead. Politically it was a happening and difficult year with the intolerance and Award Wapsi dramas. Amidst that, transformation from top-down to bottom approach, from bargaining federalism to cooperative federalism were slow but steady movement towards fiscal discipline and economic reforms. Call for ‘GiveItUp’ in March, 2015 with an appeal to all the people who can afford it, to come forward and give-up their LPG subsidy. Nearly, 1.04 crore LPG consumers voluntarily surrendered their LPG subsidies under the campaign. Boost to infrastructure investment through bonds was a transformative decision that reshaped Bharat in the coming years.
Demonetisation and Digitisation
Many people think that digitisation started with the shocking and surprising announcement of demonetisation. Actually, with the introduction of JAM (short for Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) trinity, a massive financial inclusion programme to plug the leakages of government subsidies started from 2014 itself.
In 2016, when the Government started talking about mobile-number-based transactions, it was a matter of mockery by none other than the former Finance Minister P Chidambaram. In April 2016, the Government launched Unified Payments Interface (UPI, which allows 24 X 7 transfer of money through mobile devices. Since 2016, UPI has recorded more than 8,600 million transactions in over 14 lakh crores in value as of March 2023. Market share of UPI has increased from 2 per cent in 2016-17 to 52 per cent in 2021-22. The growth of unique users has increased, reaching over 300 million users by the end of 2022. As of June, 2022, there were over 50 million merchants on the UPI network. Globally, UPI is now recognised and exportable technology developed in Bharat.
The announcement of demonetisation on November 8, 2016, perhaps was the most shocking appearance of Prime Minister Modi on the television screen. The Government announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes and announced the issuance of new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 banknotes in exchange. It was a massive blow to the parallel economy and counterfeit currency networks. Despite the initial chaos and confusion, people stood by the decision due to the intent behind decision.
Surgical Strike/ Balakot Strike
When PM Modi made a surprised trip to Lahore, on his way back from Kabul, in December 2015, people thought it was quite un-Modi like. He was obviously seen as a touch leader who would teach Pakistan a lesson. He made a dramatic announcement through a tweet, “Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi,”. Naturally, media not just in Pakistan and Bharat but all over the world went in huddle. Pleasantries were exchanged on Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s birthday and his grand-daughter’s wedding. Modi gave peace a chance. But, Pakistan being Pakistan, it went into another backstabbing with adventurous fidayeen attack on an Army Base Camp at Uri on September 18, 2016, which killed 19 Bharatiya soldiers. Similar attacks had taken place in Gurdaspur and Pathankot. Bharat by Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) for the same. The Government showed considerable restraint despite the public pressure. It declared that it reserved the right to respond “at the time and place of our own choosing”. It was a mental exercise for the security experts and media to decipher that message.
Exactly on the eleventh day, on September 29, 2016, Bharat announced that it conducted surgical strikes against terrorists launch pads across the Line of Control in Pakistani-occupied Jammu and Kashmir and inflicted “significant casualties”. The casualty figures were reported were around 35 to 70. Similarly, in response to the Pulawama attack that killed 40 brave CRPF personnel, In February 2019, Bharatiya Air Force conducted Balakot strike, a pre-emptive strike directed against a terrorist training camp, and causing the deaths of a “large number” of terrorists. Both the military actions were undertaken with a surgical precision and utmost secrecy.
The improved mandate for the Modi-led Government led to lot of speculations about the formation of the Cabinet and what would be on the offing. Induction of S Jaishankar as the Foreign Minister was a surprise move that no one could guess.
The new Government with Amit Shah as Home Minister immediately swung into action. The medieval practice of instant triple talaq, which continued in Bharat for decades after independence, was banned in 2019. The Triple Talaq bill, known as the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was passed by the Indian Parliament on July 30, 2019. The law was enforced by the Indian Government on August 1, 2019 where Triple Talaq by Muslim men is regarded as a criminal offence. Though it was as per the Supreme Court decision of August 2017 to declare instant Triple Talaq as unconstitutional and a clear violation of women’s right to equality through a majority judgement, bringing it as a law and then executing it was a major slap on the face of pseudo-secularists.
Amendment to Article 370 and Abrogation of 35A
In 2015, when the BJP formed a Government with Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP, there was a shock and negative reaction about the move. After the difficult run, before the collapse of the Government in June 2018 over the issue of anti-terror operations in the Valley, suddenly the scenario changed with the President’s rule. After coming back to power in 2019, Jammu-Kashmir witnessed a massive mobilisation of Armed Forces. Everyone was clueless about what was happening. Again the series of speculations went on. Earlier it was assumed that abrogating special status Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, which was discriminatory in nature, was the toughest task to deal with. However, on August 5, 2019, the Narendra Modi Government nullified the Article 370 through a Presidential order, arrogated Article 35A, and bifurcated the State into two union territories. As a result, the Constitution of Bharat could fully extend to the Union territories of J&K and Ladakh. All the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Bharat and benefits of all the Central Laws that were being enjoyed by other citizens of the country are now available to the people of J&K and Ladakh. The change has brought about socio-economic development in both the UTs. Despite speculations, from media to opposition, everybody was clueless about the possible steps.
Fight Against Covid-19
The China originated global pandemic was the biggest challenge that humanity has witnessed in the recent times. After the historic visit of President Trump, announcement was made about Prime Minister Modi’s address to the nation. On March 20, 2020, Prime Minister gave a call for Janata Curfew on March 22, calling it a curfew “for the people and by the people of India”. People responded positively and remained locked in their houses from 7 am to 9 pm. Though it was not time to be secretive, the Government had to prepare the people for lockdown. At the same time, massive arrangements had to be made to handle to situation with a participatory approach. Janata Curfew was a testing ground for the same. Government agencies along with people from all walks of life decided to fight back. Entire machinery was galvanised to produce PPE kits, strengthening health infrastructure and developing vaccines.
While handling the health crisis, minimum services had to be ensured. Economic sustenance and vaccination drive had to be planned as in the wake of Covid-19, lock down was imposed across the world and supply chain was disrupted globally due to heavily dependence on China. Many were expecting millions of people dying or mass protests erupting against the controls. Bharat saw a different kind of approach, despite a panic situation during the second wave. On May 12, 2020, PM Modi raised a clarion call to the nation giving a kick start to the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan and announced the Special economic and comprehensive package of Rs 20 lakh crores, which is equivalent to 10 per cent of Bharat’s GDP – to fight COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The turnaround and recovery of Bharat is showing remarkable results, which is considered as a shining star in the global economy.
Many more surprises can be counted and discussed of the last nine years. During the pandemic on August 5, 2020, after the court order in November 2019, foundation stone for the grand Sri Ram Temple was laid by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the presence of Dr Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsanghchalak, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and seers from various sects. As it was one year completion to the dramatic decision on Article 370, August 5 has become a talking point every-year now. The massive infrastructure push that we have seen during the lockdown is unprecedented. Roads, airports, railway networks etc. were built at an electric pace during the lockdowns and took people to the surprise when the lockdown was lifted. In the form of, Kashi Vishwanath Corridor and Mahakaal Dham the nation saw a revival of cultural heritage in no time.The entire structure of the new Parliament got an impetus during the same period and on May 28, 2023 Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the new Parliament building to the people. During the ceremony, installation of the historic ‘Sengol’ behind the Lok Sabha Speaker’s chair, symbolising righteous power and authority, reminiscent of its use in ancient kingdoms, especially in Southern Bharat.
During the Congress era, vested interest would have a role in lobbying and decision making. Media leaks could alter the policies. Luytens’ Delhi would call the shots in its interest – all that seems to be missing in the Modi-era. The hallmark of BJP-led government’s approach to governance has been a direct communication with the masses, taking them into confidence and through their participation navigating the policy initiatives forward. Hence, media and political pundits cannot gauge the predictable unpredictability. It is not the strategy or policy of hiding something from the masses but not allowing undue influences in the policy making process. On the upcoming ‘Special Session of the Parliament’ also speculations will continue till the actual agenda will be tabled. Barring Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet colleagues, still none is aware about what is on the cards. That is expected from the ministers as per the oath. Even after circulation of agenda as per the Parliamentary procedure, we will get the real picture about the things in store only after September 18. Till then media can keep guessing and gossiping….!