Let Parliament not become a casualty of politics

On Monday, December 13, the last day of the winter session, parliamentarians thought of paying floral tributes at a chosen spot alongside   Parliament House to the intrepid men of the watch and ward staff who nine years ago this day  laid down their lives fighting a vicious militants’ attack on the complex.  Inside the two Houses, members later stood in silence.

Gratefulness and solemnity of the occasion lasted barely two minutes, however.  Hardly had the members sat down and the two Houses called to order when the trouble —by now a habit – erupted. Slogan-shouting   began from the opposition benches, and many members, some of them with placards, trooped into the well of the House to block the proceedings as they had been doing everyday during the session.

The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Mr Hamid Ansari, noted somberly at the end of what had become a daily drill,  that peace prevailed in the session only when obituaries were read. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha also expressed similar anxiety about the way Parliament proceedings were being disrupted.

A strange kind of sullen mood  descended  as the members came out into the lobbies and then moved to the Central Hall. There was, however, little evidence of guilt about what they were doing to Parliament.

If those who think that they have scored a great victory by not letting Parliament function even for a single day in the winter session ought to introspect on what they are trying to achieve. Disruption can be self-satisfying, possibly a good visual on the TV channels, but sober people among the opposition parties must know that such victories may at best turn out to be pyrrhic in nature and not worth their while for the effort.

Whatever, the seriousness of the issues, no political party, — ruling or in the opposition — will stand to gain if Parliament is wrecked from within.  The way things are going there is a danger to Parliament and the form of democracy it has come to represent.  Political parties themselves, whichever side of the House they sit, will themselves stand to lose. Who gains, if everyone loses?

No one can underestimate the seriousness of the issue of corruption and the  2G scam. They need to be fully probed and the guilty severely punished.  The government owes it to the nation that it will do so at the earliest.

But by using the scam for making   Parliament  dysfunctional, the opposition,  led by the BJP and AIADMK and joined by the CPM,  is not serving the cause. Whatever they do outside protest in Parliament has its limits.

Parliament has provided for ways allowing   the opposition to  force the government give all the information it wants on the 2G scam. The Public Accounts Committee, which is headed by a BJP leader Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, is already at work following the CAG’s  report  on the 2G licences.  The scope of the PAC”s inquiry can be easily widened. And now we find  senior BJP leaders faulting Dr Joshi for not going slow when the party is agitating for a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

Previous experiments with JPCs  have not been fruitful. They consume time.  May be the BJP wants to stretch the exercise for a couple of years to place the entire UPA government in the dock and whip up a pre-election campaign.  To the BJP the process is perhaps more important than the outcome.

The Opposition could easily move a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha  to challenge the government’s continuance in office on the 2G   scam,  but apparently it does not suit its political convenience.

The Supreme Court is also seized of the question, and so has been the CBI.  As the CBI’s credibility has often been questioned its investigation of the 2G scam placed under the supervision by the Supreme Court as also the  PAC’s probe, should have satisfied the Opposition.

How Parliament is being prevented from doing its duty to the people for whom it is meant will not  help it retain the respect of the electors. It is the respect of the people which ultimately lends legitimacy to a constitutional institution.

As the Chairman,  Mr Hamid Ansari, in his valedictory remarks noted with  anguish that no discussion on a matter of public interest took place, no special mention about the problems of the people was made, and not a single question was allowed to be answered in the question hour, which makes the ministers more accountable.

In a way, Parliament’s   authority flows  from its power to sanction money to the government and monitor how it is spent.  In the winter session it passed four Appropriation Bills sanctioning money worth thousands of crore of rupees amidst the ruckus and without a wee bit of scrutiny.  This is a serious lapse on the part of Parliament as an institution and decidedly a disservice to the people.

We project our democracy as India’s unique selling proposition and disruptions in the past as also the stalemate in the winter session, , are not going to be a great advertisement for our brand of democracy.

Successful running of Parliament will require patience, tolerance of the opponents’ view, a give-and-take approach , readiness to look for a way-out of the serious situations that are natural to a vibrant democracy.

It would also require readiness on the part of the leaders of all parties to reach a consensus on issues and the working of the institutions vital for the survival of the country’s democratic dispensation. Parliament is certainly one of them. Let the leaders of the parties sit together and come to an agreement that whatever the seriousness of the issues that may come to the fore, they will not let Parliament become a casualty of politics.

Another Republic Day is coming close. Let it not be said that our decision to opt for parliamentary democracy 61 years ago was  flawed.  Our Constitution was conceived in hope, but if we are not able to work it the fault will lie with men, not with the Constitution and all it encompasses – its values, principles and the democratic spirit. Let’s not fail the Constitution or the country.

– The Asian Age, December 31st, 2010

Confrontation will harm Parliament, nation

These are not happy times in India and it looks as if it will take quite a while for it to recover from what is certainly a crisis it has allowed itself to slip  into.

The crisis has brought out not only the way the political system has been mauled during 63 years since Independence, but also it has bruised the conscience of the nation.

The Constitution and political system the founding fathers of the Republic  left behind is often blamed by the chatterati. The fault,  however, may not be of the Constitution, or the system, or the stars — but of the men who have been fiddling  with the values enshrined in the constitutional scheme  for their narrow, petty ends across the land.

This is evident from the way vital organs of the State – Parliament, the judiciary and the executive – have fallen in public esteem.  And no political leader, whatever the political affiliation, is making a serious effort to stop the rot, which is affecting the health of the nation.

Parliament, which represents a nation of over a billion people, who are keen to see a better future in their lifetime, is lying paralysed, almost dysfunctional.

The worthy members sitting on both sides of the divide do not know how to resolve the crisis by talks, or a give-and take approach that is always of help in a democracy.

Consensus among political parties is essential in a democratic polity. What we are seeing is however, a sustained attempt to create an atmosphere of confrontation that can spill over from Parliament to the country.  Unchecked, it will have serious consequences for the country and the political system,  or whatever is left of it.  The resultant tensions will add to the people’s agony.

The 2G guilty must be punished, but the JPC is not the only way to get the truth out of the government on the scam. Properly made use of, other ways can also be effective. One of them is that the Public Accounts Committee, which is headed by a senior BJP leader, should be entrusted with the task.  A no-confidence motion on the scam can also be moved in the House in the current session. But not to let Parliament discuss it and to force daily adjournments of the House by raising a ruckus cannot be regarded as service to Parliament.

It has been seen from experience elsewhere in the world, that the moment a parliament loses public respect as an institution, it loses its legitimacy.  The Hon. Members need to ensure that Parliament continues to enjoy public confidence.

Not much can be said about the executive branch’s performance during the last 60 years. The so-called “Steel Frame” has become  corroded to the bones. Senior bureaucrats at the Centre and in the States have developed cosy relationship with unscrupulous politicians, just to share the cake. Greed is cementing the nexus and breeding corruption.

Scores of officers of the babudom, IAS, IPS and others services  are facing criminal trials and there are others who ought to be proceeded against,  but the people tend to believe that nothing will happen to anyone.

In most States, the administration is distant, callous and unresponsive. And the people do find that the rich and the influential are able to find their way through the corridors and the red tape, while others are kept at bay.

Over the years, the judiciary’s image has also suffered.   Most people, who thought that it is their last hope, no longer think it can dispense justice to them and in time. This is mainly because of the long delays, high costs, frequent adjournments –which are often managed– and  corruption.

Justice S P Bharucha once said in a public statement that 20 per cent of judiciary was corrupt.  That was years ago, and you have to take into account the cost of the rise of the index of inflation.

None else than the Attorney General of India, C.M. Vanahavati pointed out in the Supreme Court  the other day how difficult the judiciary will find it to apply the criterion of “impeccable integrity” to judicial appointments. His brief was of course to defend the controversial appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner.

The judiciary is rightly jealous of its independence and the people also have a high stake in it. But it pre-supposes that it is prepared to guard its freedom from encroachment by the Executive, Parliament or those with the power to buy justice or influence in several courts in the country.

The reports from various high courts and the subordinate judiciary should have caused greater concern at the apex level than it has. The Supreme Court should have been listening to the woes of the common people who daily have to knock the kacheheri’s doors only to go home disappointed.

That some wrong men were allowed to come to higher judiciary and it has had no way to tackle their greed is amply illustrated by the two cases of Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran of the Karntaka High Court and Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court, have been sent to Parliament for impeachment, because the Supreme Court itself  could not weed the rotten apples out.

And now we will have to see the irony of a Parliament, which  itself is writhing in a disfunctional state, is supposed to decide the fate of the two errant high court judges who have been in the headlines for wrong reasons.

And now a section of the media, which has been boldly reporting and commenting from the sidelines and acquiring a sort of moral superiority a watchdog likes to enjoy, is also earning  public sneers for the inclination of some well-known names to become facilitators in the games the politicians and big business are used to playing.

The people who do not seem to be worried are the illustrious members of the big businesses for whom the current state of the political system is a matter of discussion at  cocktail time. Even some of the respected names, who have often bragged about the social responsibility of the business, have been caught in the Niira Radia tapes. They reveal an extra-curricular interest Niira Radia and her illustrious  client has taken in the induction into the Union Cabinet last year – of none else than A Raja —the source of much trouble to the Government, Parliament, the judiciary and the media.

The malaise is much deeper than a JPC will be able to tackle.  The moral fibre of the nation has become weak and there is no one around to check its daily attenuation.

– The Tribune, December 1st, 2010