Rahul Gandhi becomes India's opposition leader Video Credit: Gulf News

A few months are really like a lifetime in politics. Three months ago, the BJP was talking about ‘400 par’ in the general elections, aided by a pliant legacy media which also set this narrative. Today, the reality is quite different.

As the 18th Lok Sabha started this week, it was clear that this parliament would be very different from the last two terms of the Modi government. With the BJP reduced to a minority coalition government, and the opposition benches strengthened with higher numbers, expect to see fireworks.

On one hand, a more combative opposition is going to put the government on the mat on a series of issues. For example, the issue of leaked exam papers which has affected the lives of millions of students.

On the other hand, despite a humbling mandate, the BJP seems to be in no mood to be accommodative and work with the opposition. Instead, Mr. Modi seems to have dug in his heels and wants to give the message that it will be business as usual for his government. He wants to send a signal that despite his reduced mandate, he will not be forced on the defensive.

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Fight is significant

That is why the Prime Minister repeated all the top ministers from his second term and then went ahead with repeating the Lok Sabha Speaker, Om Birla, who spent the last term suspending opposition MPs at the drop of a hat. In the last Lok Sabha, he suspended nearly 150 opposition MPs.

This time, when the BJP decided to nominate Om Birla again, the opposition decided it would fight back and for the first time since 1976, there was an election for the Speaker’s post. Convention has been consensus, but the BJP is in no mood to show any perceived weakness.

Even though the NDA won the Speaker’s election, as was expected, the fact the opposition made it a fight is significant. It means they won’t allow the BJP to walk all over them.

With the appointment of Rahul Gandhi as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, we can expect many more confrontations between the opposition and treasury benches.

This role gives Rahul Gandhi a constitutional post for the first time. He will be part of committees which are headed by the Prime Minister that meet to choose the CBI Director, the Lokpal, Central Vigilance Commissioner among others.

It will bring Rahul Gandhi in direct confrontation with the Prime Minister. The fact the he chose to accept the LOP post makes it clear that the Congress is going to aggressively take on the Modi government. They will fight back at every step, at a time when the opposition’s voice had been drowned in parliament through partisan decisions and a brute majority of the BJP.

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Taking all allies along

As Leader of the Opposition, Rahul Gandhi will also be responsible for floor coordination with allies. This is crucial. There are reports that the Trinamool Congress was upset with not being consulted about the opposition’s Speaker nominee.

Rahul Gandhi spoke to Mamata for 20 minutes over the phone to get her to come around. Other smaller parties in the INDIA alliance had the same complaint. The Congress needs to ensure it takes all allies along.

Several issues are on the opposition’s agenda in the coming weeks. Apart from the exam paper leaks, there is the latest train accident which once again highlights the poor safety record of the Indian railways; the controversial new criminal laws which come into effect next week; and federalism which the Trinamool wants to highlight after slamming the centre for signing a water treaty with Bangladesh without consulting West Bengal.

All of this means the next few years will be very interesting. A strong opposition is good for democracy. What would be even better would be a government that is willing to find a way to work with all parties on crucial issues. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see that anytime soon.