Om Birla and the art of keeping peace in the House

Birla’s second tenure will be a far tougher assignment. One of the significant challenges will be managing a more assertive Opposition.
Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla.
Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla.Express Illustrations

A soft-spoken MP from Kota-Bundi seat in Rajasthan, Om Birla has become the second Lok Sabha Speaker to take charge for a second consecutive term. Birla, 62, returns to the high chair for a job that is bound to be much tougher, and trickier than in 2019.

His re-election is considered a milestone for a man from a modest background. The ruling NDA government sees in Birla experience, efficiency and communication skills inside a House known for acrimonious debates and angry walkouts.

Birla’s previous tenure was eventful. India’s new Parliament was constructed and crucial legislations were passed — the repeal of Article 370; Citizenship (Amendment) Act; three reformative laws replacing the IPC, CrPC and Indian Evidence Act; and 33% reservation for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies.

Critics, however, cite the Opposition charge that the NDA government pushed through with key legislations on the strength of its brute majority and by forsaking the tradition of due consultation inside Parliament.

Birla’s second tenure will be a far tougher assignment. One of the significant challenges will be managing a more assertive Opposition. Already, the House has witnessed sharp reactions of Opposition leaders, including Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, after President Droupadi Murmu’s address to the joint session of Parliament.

During his previous term, Birla made several controversial decisions, such as cancelling Rahul Gandhi’s membership and expelling TMC leader Mahua Moitra from the Lok Sabha.

On June 27, when Rahul Gandhi, as the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, greeted Birla inside the House, a contrast of sorts emerged: it was on March 24, 2023, when the then Wayanad MP’s membership was cancelled.

On the other hand, Birla will have to strike a balance with the expectations of the Prime Minister and the BJP. Since it is a coalition government, his task can be of critical importance.

As the fifth of nine children, Birla faced many difficulties during his formative years. His political journey began with his ‘school parliament.’ He won the student union elections in Class 10.

In college, Birla contested the student union elections in his first year but lost by two votes. When he was 22 years old, he became the chairman of a cooperative.

Birla’s rise within the BJP saw him as the state president and national vice-president of the party’s youth wing. In the 1990s, Birla was closely associated with the RSS lobby within the BJP. He was mentored by influential figures such as Harishankar Bhabda and Ramdas Aggarwal. In 1998, he was given the party ticket from Nainwa (in Bundi district), which he declined, saying his political base was stronger in Kota.

His first big breakthrough came in 2003, when he won the Assembly election in Kota against Congress leader Shanti Dhariwal by 10,000 votes. The victory was significant as it came at a time when no other BJP leader was willing to contest the polls against Dhariwal. Despite not being included in the Vasundhara Raje cabinet, Birla served as a parliamentary secretary and impressed all with his legislative knowledge and acumen.

In 2008, Birla elevated himself within the BJP by defeating former Congress minister Ramakrishna Verma. His victory margin rose in 2013.

Birla is known for his well-thought-out strategies, which he doesn’t reveal. He built significant relationships and maintained contacts across the political spectrum. While his links with Venkaiah Naidu, Uma Bharti and Shivraj Singh Chauhan proved fruitful, his rapport with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah grew stronger during relief works in the aftermath of the Gujarat earthquake.

In 2014, Birla contested his first Lok Sabha polls, leveraging his close ties with Modi and Shah. And he marked his entry into national politics. In 2019, despite Congress efforts at ‘social engineering,’ Birla’s booth management led to another huge victory.

Birla’s influence has coincided with a shift in Rajasthan’s political landscape: the influence of Raje has been on the wane and Birla has positioned himself as a significant power centre.

In the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Birla won in a thrilling contest again, dashing Congress hopes.

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