Punishing the nation

Only 17 per cent of Parliaments productive time has been spent on discussing and passing legislation.

The Central government may have committed mistakes, if so, as prime minister Manmohan Singh appealed, punish it but not the nation.

The BJP however preferred to throw national interest to the winds once again and stalled Parliament for days on a total non-issue.

This is political vandalism at its worst and no amount of sophistry on the part of the party leadership can obscure this depressing fact. The BJP has lost its way and stands both suspect and diminished. The Left and others went along with the charade but the real mischief was caused by the BJP.

The issue kept changing. First, it was opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail as anti-farmer and small trader, anti-federal, economically ruinous and bowing to WalMart and western capital in general.

Then, when the federal issue was cured by making the legislation purely enabling and leaving the decision to introduce FDI retail or not to the states, the issue became failure to consult and fashion a consensus.

This argument was totally destroyed with the revelation that the commerce minister and other officials had written to all CMs and chief secretaries and that a majority of states consulted had approved as had other stakeholders like farmer, consumer and industrial associations. This brought forth the charge that national leaders were not ‘consulted.’

On the government’s explaining that if implementation was solely in the hands of the states and the states were largely on board, what further consultation was required, the argument shifted to the proposition that any major executive policy decision requires parliamentary sanction through a debate ending in a vote, especially as the UPA is a ‘minority’ government.

The fact is that a motion of no-confidence was moved by the Trinamool Congress as the very first order of business of the winter session and received ludicrously little support, and certainly none from the BJP.

So what remained was the demand that the accepted principle of separation of powers, the executive’s prerogative to take policy decisions should be abrogated in favour of prior parliamentary approval. This right, if pressed and expanded, would rob the executive – Central and state – of basic power and responsibility to govern.

The argument that there is a precedent in the matter insofar as Parliament debated the government’s decision to disinvest in Balco, a PSU, is to make an inappropriate comparison. Even otherwise, two wrongs do not make a right.

Fundamental requirement

In the Westminster model of democracy that India has adopted, being in a ‘minority’ is irrelevant. The fundamental requirement is enjoyment of the confidence of the Lower House calculated on the basis of the number of members present and voting. Proving a mathematical majority of the total membership of the House is unnecessary.  

The BJP has been proved wrong and anti-democratic on every single count in its efforts at political sabotage through strong-arm tactics to block the proceedings of Parliament, aided by ideologues and sundry small groups out to squeeze concessions out of the government rather than uphold any great principle.

This threatens to make India ungovernable and stall development, investment, employment and growth at a time of national economic peril and international economic crisis. According to the Parliament research service only 17 per cent of Parliament’s productive time has been spent on discussing and passing legislation. The pendency is alarming.  

As a result of inter-party negotiations, the Centre agreed to voting on an FDI motion in the Lok Sabha, having mustered the required numbers in that House, but a non-voting motion in the Upper House where the numbers are lacking. However, the Rajya Sabha protested against this differential treatment, compelling the government finally to accept voting motions in both Houses. This does not augur well and the best the government can now do is to declare that this should be treated as a one-time exception. 

Meanwhile, the controversy over the CAG’s calculation of loss in the 2G matter continues. The former DG P&T in the CAG’s office, R P Singh’s statement that he was left with no choice but to sign a document with calculations of losses up to Rs 1.76 crore that he was unable to accept has been sought to be debunked by reference to the record.

Be this as it may, what is not controverted is that the JPC Chairman, Dr M M Joshi of the BJP did phone CAG officials urging them to hurry with the 2G report before the government had time to cover its tracks and suggesting a method of calculating the losses. The CAG very correctly told his officers to resist responding to these queries and is above reproach in this regard.

Similarly, the announcement that the Aadhaar scheme is being rolled out to facilitate direct cash transfers to beneficiaries of various government social programmes and prevent much red tape and leakage has also been greeted with disdain and scorn by critics and its timing called in question. Of course there could be teething problems. But is that reason for masterly inactivity?

All this constitutes a sorry exhibition of total negativism and obstruction. Yes, do criticise the government where necessary, but do not punish the nation.

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