Benefits of stalemate

Benefits of stalemate

International agencies have warned that India’s rating may be downgrade to junk status unless economic reforms are given a push. But the government is not able to pass any legislation because there is a lack of consensus on the future vision of the country.

The lack of political consensus is but a reflection of the lack of public consensus. The people see that economic reforms have led to unprecedented increase in wealth among the politicians, officials and businessman. The common man has indeed got some relief from programmes like MNREGA but these improvements have paled into insignificance in front of the unparalleled increase in wealth of the rich. People are unwilling to support more reforms. The opposition parties have preferred that no business be transacted at all in the Parliament instead of pushing bills that do not have support of the people. The Parliament, in fact, is successful by preventing transaction of business.

Daron Acemoglu of MIT and James A Robinson of Harvard University argue that the purpose of parliamentary democracy is to prevent social unrest. The ruling elite provides a safety valve for the unrest to be released by the affected people getting a forum to voice their grievances which is then followed by undertaking some redistribution. During the nineteenth century, they say, most Western societies extended voting rights which led to ‘unprecedented’ redistributive programmes. Our Constitution likewise states that the fundamental duty of the State is to secure the welfare of its citizens.

The government appears to be treading a different path, however. The policy is to run the economy in favour of large corporate houses and multinational companies as seen in the 2G spectrum and coalgate scandals. The welfare measures of Right to Education and Right to Food are designed to cover up this main objective by setting up a pro-poor façade. There is unhappiness in the country on the adoption of this development model. The happenings in Parliament are only a reflection of the underlying unhappiness.
Adam Meirowitz of Princeton University says that effective functioning of a parliament requires that both sides share a common vision. Two partners in a business can fruitfully discuss whether to open two big showrooms or four small showrooms if they share a common vision of expansion of their business. It is difficult for them to reach a common understanding if one wants to bleed the business for personal gain and other wants to use it to support his political ambitions. There is an absence of such common vision between the government and the Opposition today. The Government wants to develop the country by giving a free run to big corporate houses and multinational companies. The opposition is not in agreement with this policy though it does not have a vision of its own.  
Superficial debate

One can see an army of workers picking up dry leaves and cleaning the roads in Central Delhi while the footpath in the slums is not even repaired for years. The politicians of both the ruling party and the opposition located in Central Delhi have captured the resources of the country to the detriment of the common good. But neither can openly state this. Thus the debate takes place in the parliament very superficially—like oil on water. Both sides have unstated objectives that entirely different from what they say. As a result no meaningful debate can take place in Parliament.

James Fishkin of Stanford University has shown that voting patterns change if voters are provided more information and if they discuss and deliberate among themselves before voting. This is the model of the Gram Sabha. People get together, discuss and vote. On the other hand the election process is ‘blind’ in the sense that each voter comes with his own set of information and there is no discussion. The Parliamentary system lies somewhere in the middle. Nominal discussion takes place before voting. True discourse and deliberation, as took place in the Constituent Assembly, rarely takes place today.

The government appears to have a fixed mindset and the only option the opposition has is either to accept or reject it. As a result the parliamentarians are not able to reach a decision. For example, one partner may suggest that they open two showrooms so that management is easy; while other partner may suggest that four showrooms will be good for image building. Deliberation may lead them to adopt a franchisee model. Such deliberation is possible only if both sides are willing to listen to the other side and do not come on the table with holier-than-thou attitude. The prime minister seems to speak as if he knows all and others have only to follow the policies that he proposes. The only choice before the opposition, therefore, is to accept the policies proposed by the government or reject them. The opposition is in minority hence they would be defeated in a vote. They have, therefore, taken the path of obstructing Parliament.

The basic requirements of democratic functioning are absent today. The policies espoused by the government are more designed to enable a particular section of the society, especially politicians and bureaucrats, to extract resources of the country for personal gain. There is an all-pervasive distrust of the political system. In this situation the opposition has decided to take an aggressive stance and stalemate the Parliament instead of going along with the policies of the government. Perhaps this is better because allowing Parliament to operate would lead to more anti-people policies being implemented.