Recipe for anarchy

Stonewalling parliament

Some years after Truman, echoing Roosevelt, proclaimed four great freedoms for mankind — of speech and expression, of worship and from want and fear, Bob Hope added a fifth category, freedom from humbug. Its relevance was well illustrated by the BJP and the Left during the just concluded winter session of parliament when they raucously muzzled all debate, ostensibly to save democracy from corruption and misgovernance. This is humbug of a high order.

The arguments used to justify this are self-serving. There is an ordained or ongoing scrutiny of the 2G spectrum matter by the public accounts committee, a CBI review of spectrum allocation from 2001 being monitored by the supreme court, an investigation of any policy malfeasance by a retired supreme court judge and a parallel investigation by the enforcement directorate.

Since the opposition remained dissatisfied, the prime minister volunteered to appear before the public accounts committee and the government proposed a special session of parliament to debate whether or not a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) would add value to the ongoing proceedings.

The opposition, especially the BJP, will have none of this and insists that it is not for the PM to choose the forum before which he is arraigned. It wants the constitution of a JPC rather than a debate on the need for one as offered. This is an untenable stand and devoid of merit. The public accounts committee is one of half a dozen established joint committees of parliament under its rules of business.

On the other hand, there is no standing provision for any other JPC except by express direction of parliament. So for the opposition to insist on reference of the so-called spectrum scam to the exchequer to a non-existent body that can only be constituted by a specific mandate of parliament, is an absurdity. The opposition insists that the government must face parliament but will not let parliament function or decide. This is an insult to the people of India who did not elect their MPs merely to prevent parliament from functioning.

All this is seemingly justified by the enormity of the estimated loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the public exchequer as a result of mala fide rate fixation for the sale of spectrum. This is a largely hypothetical figure. The then prevailing sluggish growth of tele-density with high call rates yielded to an exponential growth in telephony and a correspondingly sharp fall in call rates, partly because spectrum was sold at fixed or low prices.

Real national benefit

This entailed transferring real national benefit from a small, elite telephonic clientele to a greatly growing segment of the public. The social cost of such a transfer cannot be described as stealing money. If enhanced connectivity promoted higher growth, investment and employment was there no dividend to the exchequer?

This is not to suggest absence of mala fide as some illicit gain has been clearly proven. There was also delay in taking corrective action. But the range and degree of malfeasance have to be established and that is what the parallel probes currently under way are designed to establish.

A thoroughgoing parliamentary debate could have brought greater clarity regarding possible failures of policy or implementation and indicated what needed to be probed or if any charges should be preferred and against whom. This was not allowed to happen. The tail assumed the right to wag the dog and the will of the people was claimed by a minority opposition.

If the premier institution of parliament can be held to ransom in this bizarre fashion, it could next be the turn of the judiciary or the CEC to be told that unless some other norms are adopted at the whim and fancy of an assorted group of protestors, these constitutional authorities will be prevented from performing their functions. This is a recipe for anarchy. The real motivation was and is the hope of electoral advantage and the smell of power.

It was not for nothing that a BJP spokesperson publicly stated that until a few weeks ago, the party could not even remotely envision electoral victory in 2014. But now the ‘kursi’ had come into view and appeared drawing nearer by the day. Hence evidence of vaulting ambition. The Left is staring electoral nemesis in the face in Bengal and Kerala.
The more blatant conceit of the BJP is matched by its deceit in planning anti-government rallies in several states. Karnataka has been excluded as the BJP government there has been caught with its hand in the till. Blatant corruption has been exposed by the Lokayukta who has been given short shrift by the state administration.

The Congress too must turn the light inwards. It has fostered corruption and protected the corrupt. It may be procedurally correct regarding the JPC; but where is its moral authority? Surely all sides must join hands to tackle the prevalent moral rot collectively in the coming year.

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