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Monday July 15, 2024

Modi calls for ‘consensus’ as parliament opens after polls

By AFP
June 25, 2024
Indias Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures during the Kisan Samman Sammelan (farmers honour conference) on the outskirts of Varanasi on June 18, 2024. — AFP
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures during the Kisan Samman Sammelan (farmer's honour conference) on the outskirts of Varanasi on June 18, 2024. — AFP

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to an emboldened opposition for “consensus” on Monday, as parliament opened following an election setback that forced him into a coalition government for the first time in a decade.

Expected in the first session, which will run until July 3, is a preview of Modi´s plans for his third term and the likely formal appointment of Rahul Gandhi as leader of the opposition -- a post vacant since 2014.

Modi´s first two terms in office followed landslide wins for his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), allowing his government to drive laws through parliament with only cursory debate.

But now analysts expect the 73-year-old Modi to moderate his Hindu-nationalist agenda to assuage his coalition partners, focusing more on infrastructure, social welfare and economic reforms.

“To run the country, a consensus is of utmost importance”, Modi said in a speech shortly before entering parliament, calling on the opposition to play a constructive role. “People expect their representatives to debate and discuss issues which are important to the country... they don´t expect disturbances or hindrances in the parliamentary proceedings,” he said.

“People want substance, not slogans.” Modi led lawmakers in taking the oath -- as his cheering supporters thumped their desks in support, and opposition members waved the constitution in protest. He said he was “proud to serve” India.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Kiren Rijiju on Monday called for a “peaceful and productive” session, but Indian media said they expected lively debate with a far stronger opposition. “All set to spar,” one headline in the Hindustan Times read on Monday. “Resurgent opposition set to push government,” said the Indian Express front page.

Rahul Gandhi, 54, defied analyst expectations to help his Congress party nearly double its parliamentary numbers, its best result since Modi was swept to power a decade ago. Gandhi is the scion of a dynasty that dominated Indian politics for decades and is the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, beginning with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

Parliamentary regulations require the opposition leader to come from a party that commands at least 10 percent of the lawmakers in the 543-seat lower house. The post has been vacant for 10 years because two dismal election results for Congress -- once India´s dominant party -- left it short of that threshold.