The treasury benches in Parliament must be thanked for the passage of two bills in the Lok Sabha that cater to two as many core constituencies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party: the middle class and the businessmen. This, amidst an all-out effort by the opposition to not let the House function! The Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill notifies the period of maternity leave as part of continuous service and proposes to empower the Union government to notify the gratuity ceiling from time to time without amending the law. A section of the middle class, senior citizens, has been miffed with the government for the downward revision in post-retirement benefits on different occasions. To assuage their sense of hurt, some amendments to the Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizens Act, 2007, also are under consideration of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment. This is over and above the sops that the elderly have been offered in the recent Union Budget. The proposed changes in this law will include removal of the maximum ceiling of maintenance allowance; extension of the right to appeal to the respondents; extension of the benefit of revocation of transfer of property to parents; reckoning of the time limit for disposal of applications by the tribunal from the date of receipt of application, etc. The bill about “relief” proposes to grant a business house the right to seek damages from the other side in case of a breach of a contract and to reduce the discretion of courts in such matters. Without presenting a laundry list of measures for the traditional voters of the BJP, the near absence of communication about several legislative measures must be questioned. It seems not many legislations catch Modi’s fancy. Most issues he flags in his speeches are about his executive decisions: Jan Dhan Yojana, DBT, Ujjwala, demonetisation, etc. Very few bills have made their way to Modi’s moving speeches: The failed attempt to make a new law for land acquisition and the triple talaq bill caught in a limbo in the Rajya Sabha are two that have a recall value.
At a time when the popularity of the government is being questioned after three consecutive years of positive ratings of Modi nationally and internationally, the particular kind of parliamentary action that utilises people’s money well rather than wasting it in ‘transmission losses’ must be highlighted. Women, who comprise almost half the population, must be made interested in the activities of this government. And the messaging cannot be limited to talks about maternity benefits. A vast majority of urban women monitor the progress in their children’s school education while the rural lot cares for their wards’ future as much. An inspiring tête-a-tête between the prime minister and mothers of students must be designed. Communication with the youth must come in the shape of moderated interactions. After the stupendous success of “Chai pe Charcha” during the 2014 campaign, the tour de force was surprisingly discontinued. Ennui has set into the audience of “Mann ki Baat” because of the one-way communication. Only a few in millions who are named fondly by the prime minister in the course of the radio broadcast stay interested.
While the current government has hardly changed the systems of governance, to say that it has performed badly otherwise would be far from the truth. The success of the BJP in the Assembly election in Tripura — preceded by an above-average show in Gujarat and succeeded by the horror of Uttar Pradesh by-elections — implies that the people subjected or exposed to Modi for long are tired even as those new to him find him promising. The fourth year of his tenure is too late a period to impress the people with reforms as effects lag the causes in economic affairs. Modi must initiate a dialogue with the people immediately if the BJP leadership hasn’t contemplated it already. This is not to eye the elections alone; the government will, through this mechanism of communication, get the kind of feedback Modi’s trusted lot might be depriving him of, due to which several critical issues remain unaddressed.