Politics of disruption

Instead of allowing Parliament and the PAC to debate the CAG report, the BJP wants to impose its will on the majority.

The BJP seems intent on destroying parliamentary democracy in India whatever the arguments it employs in a barrage of bizarre rhetoric. Its logic is fascist: whatever I say is right and I shall prevail. This comes days after celebrating Independence Day and the hard-won triumph of freedom and democracy it symbolises.  

Having disrupted the winter session, it is at it again, insisting that the prime minister must resign for the so-called coalgate scam before Parliament is allowed to function. Led by Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj in the presence of Advani and cheered on by Nitin Gadkari from outside, it rejects a debate in Parliament as the matter will merely be talked.

A no-confidence motion is however ruled out as the numbers do not favour the saboteurs. Meanwhile, disruption of Parliament is being paraded as a national duty. The argument is that a similar disruption alone forced the resignation of Raja and Maran following the CAG’s 2G report. And if Raja could resign as minister for telecom, Manmohan Singh must resign as he held additional charge of the coal ministry during the years when ‘coalgate’ occurred.

The reasoning is flawed. Raja did not resign because of or to end disruption. And the resignation of a minister is very different from the forced resignation of a prime minister. The latter implies the fall of the government with all its attendant consequences. So what Jaitley is seeking is the overthrow of the government through street action noisily enacted on the floor of Parliament till the totally unconstitutional demand of a boisterous and unruly minority is met. 

The CAG has submitted a report on the coal ministry which is now the property of Parliament. Instead of allowing Parliament to debate the matter and send it to the Public Accounts Committee for detailed scrutiny before the House takes a final view on the matter, the BJP argument is that the part is entitled to trump the whole, thus enabling a strident minority in the House to impose its will on the majority, and that too without requisite parliamentary debate and investigation.

The CAG has clearly overreached himself, making recommendations on policy as much as reporting on performance and then computing presumptive loss under various hypotheses on the basis of hindsight. From these findings, political partisans have sought to interpret genuine errors of judgement or innocent misappraisal of future market trends as acts of deliberate mala fides on the part of officials and ministers who are held accountable long after the event.

Who in government then will take clear and timely decisions without procrastination and seeking immunity by securing a multiplicity of irrelevant signatures? Both decision-making and governance have grievously suffered while the opportunity cost of delay has been truly enormous.

When the NDA was in power, the Vajpayee government was gleefully slammed by the Congress for the ‘Kargil coffin-gate scam.’ Since the wooden caskets carrying the bodies of those killed in action to their homes for the last rites were found oozing body fluids, emergency purchases were made of metal caskets.

The Kargil war ended too soon for the auditors, and the number of fatal casualties had therefore by audit calculations, been grossly underestimated by the defence ministry. This was the ‘coffin-gate scam.’ Imagine the unstated reasoning: excessive caskets and a dearth of dead bodies for audit; no proper tendering for competitive rates and quality!

The media and political class fell on ‘coffin-gate’ like vultures. The same thing happened over 2G and coalgate, except that the BJP and Congress have exchanged positions. The CAG’s estimates are presumptive losses based on different sets of assumptions and timelines.

In the 2-G case, the lowest estimated loss was but a third of the highest figure, which was uncritically accepted. Why? And the huge social and even indirect revenue gain and empowerment from the dynamic growth of telephony with falling call rates was simply ignored in the calculus. Some money was possibly made by a few original allottees through resale of spectrum but the astronomic ‘loss’ linked to the 2G scam is a chimera.

The same is true of coalgate with its Rs 1.86 lakh crore ‘loss.’ The original figure leaked was almost six or seven times larger but was recalled by the CAG’s office itself. But who has made this illicit gain if only one out of 57 relevant coal blocks has actually been mined up to date? Otherwise too, as Surjit Bhalla cogently explained in a recent article, the CAG based his ‘losses’ for 2006 allocations at 2010 prices without discounting them, nor did he take into account the 30 per cent corporate tax that would have accrued to the exchequer.

Yet, despite all this, Jaitley insists the prime minister must resign without a Lok Sabha debate or PAC scrutiny in accordance with normal parliamentary procedure. The argument has nothing to do with the so-called coalgate scam. The calculation is that the UPA is on the backfoot regarding corruption and the economic slow-down.

But the Congress still has the numbers in the Lok Sabha as its allies and some others do not want early polls. Even the BJP was not in favour of early polls as it is a house divided; but now it sees an opportunity to strike before Narendra Modi has time to become a real challenger to the old guard at the Centre. Whatever happens, as was the case with Ayodhya, the BJP is riding a tiger. And it will lose. 

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