Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Maran indicted.....but rather than bash the UPA, we should focus on electoral reforms....

Nearly everything that was first said about Maran’s role in getting Sivasankaran of Aircel to sell out his telecom business to Maxis has been proven true as per CBI’s statement to the Supreme Court. Clearly, Maran has misused his authority as the telecom minister. This is one of the most reprehensible forms of “dadagiri” that a minister in power can demonstrate. His behavior gives all ministers a bad name, even though not all of them use such tactics. People in India inherently believed this accusation against Maran when it was first made, and now it’s been shown to be true.

But this post is not about whether Maran is guilty or not and whether he should resign on his own or be thrown out by the PM. Maran is but a small fry in the larger debate that is now necessary on our electoral methods. The DMK has brought – twice now – great disrepute to the ruling UPA government. But is the DMK the only party that is up to such tricks? The fact is that there have been many instances in the last twenty years or so (when coalition governments started in India) when small regional parties have carried out similar acts of “dadagiri” against the ruling coalition. At the time when the BJP was ruling, the DMK was a part of the NDA government and had also caused the NDA severe embarrassment. The JD(U)’s leader – George Fernandes – had also caused embarrassment with the “Coffingate” scam and maybe the NDA lost the elections because of all this. It’s not about the Congress or the’s about the unethical and almost illegal power that small outfits wield over the larger ones in a coalition set-up.

The point for us to think about is: what options does the Congress or the UPA have today with respect to the DMK. It’s easy for the common person or media to suggest that the PM must sack Maran. If he does that, there is a possibility (even though it’s unlikely today given the situation in the TN assembly) that the DMK may withdraw support to the UPA. Given the fledgling majority the UPA has, the withdrawal of 18 MPs from its side will lead to the government losing its majority. Given the fact that the opposition BJP hardly has the support of enough MPs and parties in Parliament to reach a majority of its own, a fresh round of elections may have to be called. Exactly the same thing happened in 1998 when the NDA government lost its majority when the AIADMK pulled out of the government. Fresh elections were called in 1999 which the NDA won. But even in 1999, the BJP or the NDA did not get a clear majority. They were always under pressure from the smaller parties. The present UPA dilemma is the same as the NDA faced in 1999. That is why, rather than politicizing this issue, it’s important to look for permanent solutions.

There were some reports in the papers yesterday that the Congress is now talking to Laloo Prasad Yadav’s (RJD) which has 4 MPs and Ajit Singh (Rashtriya Lok Dal) which has 5 seats in the Parliament. Imagine this: It’s entirely possible that Laloo may be back in the government. What a shame that would be. Also imagine this: The RLD which won its five seats in an alliance with the BJP would now become a member of the UPA. But what options does the UPA really have at this stage? UPA bashers will say that fresh elections should be called. But even if that were done, is there any possibility at all of any political outfit getting a clean majority? That’s highly unlikely. The NDA is very weak ever since it lost the important state of UP. Its strength today comes from the politically lighter states of Gujarat, MP and Punjab. In Bihar, its partner, the JD (D) is hardly a reliable one.....

That is why there is need for larger debate on electoral reforms. It may sound undemocratic – and indeed it does come with its own risks – but maybe its time to have a law that gives an elected coalition or party a free run for 5 full years. Alliance partners must be forced to stay together till the next elections take place. The principal partner in the ruling alliance must have some protection against the threats of the smaller partners. The principal partner may not have the support – by itself – of the majority of the people of the country, but it may be better for it to rule the country for five full years. The one major advantage of this rule would be that there would be a move towards “consolidation” of political parties. We have too many regional political parties and while their role in state politics is invaluable, their role in national politics needs to be curbed. Or even if it is not curbed, it must come with certain responsibilities.

Maybe its time India moved towards a system when only National parties are allowed to run for the Central government. And maybe the rules that define national parties need to be strengthened. Today, if a state political party has a presence in a mere 4 states, it is called a national party. Even the RJD was considered a national party because it had made some gains in the North East (it was subsequently de-recognized). Likewise, the NCP today is called a national party because of its performance in the North East. Since the time this rule was framed, many more states have got created. Maybe today, the rule should be that the party must be represented in at least 8-10 states. Fortunately, in spite of the rather simple qualification criteria, there are only six national parties – the Congress, the BJP, the NCP, the CPI, the CPI(M) and the BSP. So in reality, there are only four groupings – the Congress and NCP as the 1st, the CPI and CPI(M) as the 2nd, the BJP as the 3rd and the BSP as the 4th. Maybe if the rules were tightened, the BSP would be eliminated. Maybe we should allow only the BJP, the Congress or the Left to form the central government. State parties could of course join any of these dispensations, but they would not be allowed to leave the coalition for five years.

The real truth is that the BJP has no reason to mock the Congress because of the suffering caused to it by the DMK. It is entirely imaginable that if an NDA government were to be formed in the future, the DMK could again be a part of the NDA. Like it was in the last NDA dispensation between 1999 and 2004. Likewise, the AIADMK should not jump into DMK bashing, because it has a lot of skeletons in its own closet. And media, rather than sensationalizing the story must drive a public debate about the reforms that are required. Sane minds must get together to chart out political reforms. As a nation we must focus less on politics and more on economic activities..... That is the need of the day.

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