Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BJP diruptions waste 5% of winter session….

As expected – indeed as planned by the BJP – Parliament was adjourned yesterday without conducting any business. I have been writing repeatedly about this for the last few days. The opposition – mainly the BJP – is conducting itself in a manner that is disruptive and harmful to the national interest. Yet, it takes relief behind technicalities to justify its action.

For eg., the party claims that its boycott of Chidambaram is justified because the Congress had done the same thing to George Fernandes a decade back. Now while this argument is factually correct, what the party does not explain is that George Fernandes had been caught on camera by Tehelka journos. That is why he had been forced to resign. Here was a “proven” case in which even the BJP President Bangaru Laxman was fully involved (Of course, Fernandes was later acquitted of charges). What is the charge against Chidambaram? That he disagreed with Raja on auctions? That he wanted auctions, but chose not to insist on having them? The issue was eventually cleared by the cabinet – and in the cabinet, there are bound to be different viewpoints between different ministers. So Chidambaram was overruled by the PM. How does that make him “as involved as Raja”? But the BJP is happy to rely on the George Fernandes example. The BJP also argues that adjournment motions are a valid Parliamentary tool. Of course they are. But the unwritten law is that they should be exercised with responsibility. No one is denying the BJP the right to use the adjournment motion; but can they reassure us that they will not use it to stall Parliament?

Arun Jaitley made a statement last night that “It is the job of the government to make the house run smoothly”. Let’s understand this statement. What does it really mean? Does it mean that the government must agree with the BJP on points that it has a different opinion on? If so, then effectively, the BJP would be running the government. And even if the government does compromise with the BJP on some points, it is entirely possible that the Left and other parties may not agree with that compromise. For eg., on the boycotting of Chidambaram, the Left is opposed to the BJP. So should Chidambaram stop speaking in the House? So questions on internal security should be answered by the PM or others – but not by the Home Minister? Is this the will of all of the entire House or only of the BJP?

It is not the responsibility of the ruling party alone to run the House. Here’s why. The UPA is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha. Out of the 245 seats in the RS, the UPA has only 92-95or so (Congress – 70; NCP – 7; DMK – 7; TMC – 7; National Conference – 2; maybe a few independents and the NE parties). Even with doubtful support from outside (Independents – max 6; Samajwadi Party – 3; RJD – 4; INLD – 1; and Others – max 5), it barely reaches 110-115. It is still 8-13 short of a simple majority (123 seats). The BJP knows that the UPA is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha. This gives it strength to harass the government. If the BJP decides to block the house, no bill can be passed in the Rajya Sabha. That means that the business of governance stops. If this happens, is it the government’s fault? The BJP’s strategy of blocking Parliament is not coming from any principled opposition on some issues; it is coming from the knowledge that the government has no majority in the Rajya Sabha. The numbers of the ruling party in the Rajya Sabha are so inadequate that even a joint session of both houses will not yield a majority for the ruling side.

When the ruling government is not in a majority in both houses of Parliament, then how can it be singled out for running the houses? In a situation like this, it is important that all parties keep national interest at the forefront. Support or opposition to any bill must be based on well-known party positions. For eg., it was the BJP that introduced 51% FDI in single-brand retail when it was ruling at the center. It therefore supports FDI. Even otherwise, we know that the BJP supports a larger inflow of FDI. It must then support the government’s proposal to increase this limit to 100% and also allow 51% in multi-brand retail (It’s argument that this move will hurt the neighborhood kirana shop is specious – even large Indian stores will hurt them by the same logic, but the BJP is not opposing Kishore Biyani, Mukesh Ambani or Kumar Mangalam Birla’s retail plans). Likewise, on the Pension Funds Reform bill, the standing committee was headed by Yashwant Sinha of the BJP, and it recommended a 26% cap on FDI. The government may not have accepted all the recommendations of the committee – especially the one which says that the FDI cap must be specified within the Bill – but the BJP must support the bill in Parliament, because it must realize that ultimately the the government must have a little rule for governance – even if there are some disagreements with the opposition. Likewise, there would be other bills where the BJP would disagree, but the Left may agree. In that case, the Left must support the bill.This is the way a responsible must behave – especially when the two houses are split the way they are in India.

But the BJP knows the rules of Parliamentary conduct. I don’t need to remind them of the same. The BJP’s refusal to let Parliament function is based on its keenness to grab power at the earliest. If it has to discredit the government and achieve this goal, it has to do this. It is one thing for the government’s reputation to be tarnished because of its own failures; it is quite another for the BJP to do it by asserting its ability to block the business of Parliament. If it adopted this method, it should be called “dadagiri”. But then the BJP is not alone in adopting such methods. This is what happens everywhere. He who has the stick, wields it.

Look at what is happening in the US, where the House is in the hands of the Republicans and the Senate, the Democrats. The country is in deep trouble, but the lawmakers there are unable to pass vital fiscal measures which are needed to rejuvenate the economy. Both parties are behaving irresponsibly. The only difference between the US and India is that the two parties there have well known differences of opinion. Generally speaking, the Democrats prefer more taxes, a bigger role for government and more social programs for the people. The Republicans prefer lower taxes (leave money in the hands of the people), smaller government and small social programs. The logjam over the deficit reduction plan emerges from these differences which are very well known. In India, the BJP’s opposition to the functioning of Parliament is unfortunately based on opportunism – not principles. This is the vital difference. In the US – both parties have to make “compromises” that make them move away from their stated positions. In India, the BJP only has to “stick to its known position” to let the house function.

I am singling out the BJP for criticism because it alone is practicing the politics of opportunism. The Left is sticks to its principles – it opposes FDI in general; it is focused on the price rise issue; its stand on the Lokpal issue is well known; you have to give it to the Left – they are a principled party. But the BJP is a party of opportunism….

The real truth is that the BJP’s agenda will destroy the country. It has no excuse to stall Parliament except for its greed for power. The media is also realizing this. TV channels which tradionally support the BJP are now realizing that the party’s strategy. If the BJP decides to continue doing this – no one can stop them from doing so – the country will continue to remain in a policy freeze…..and as I have mentioned in the past, that suits the BJP.

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