Monday, November 28, 2011

Policy paralysis is the opposition’s only objective….that’s why we need new rules for Parliament….

Policy making happens either in Parliament. Or through executive decisions. By blocking Parliament, and by objecting to Executive decisions, the opposition – mainly the BJP – wants to perpetuate the sense of policy freeze that has dogged the country. By now, its a well known fact – political opportunism of the BJP is making it conduct itself this way. If the policy freeze continues, growth slows down and we fail to respond to the global crisis….. This is precisely what the BJP thinks will get it to power. Clearly now is the time to look at new rules of engagement within the Indian Parliament….

Just look at the tragedy that the Indian Parliament has become. A full week has gone by. In any case, it’s a short session of only 3 weeks duration. One third of the time has already been wasted and not one piece of business has got conducted. What kind of political rubbish is this? What’s the point in discussing issues in debates on TV, when the same issues cannot be discussed in Parliament? For one reason or the other, the opposition wants to block the Parliament. These days, a new trend has emerged. It doesn’t matter what the strength of the party is. Even a few MPs can block the working of the Parliament – there will always be a few other trouble makers who will extend support in the form of shouting slogans. If its not the opposition MPs making the trouble, there will always be a few disgruntled ruling coalition MPs who’ll do the job. Either way, Parliament stops functioning and the legislative business of the country comes to a grinding halt.

I think we need to change the way Parliament works. The first suggestion (no….make it demand) I have is that if the session is supposed to be for 21 days, then the session will not end without 21 days of work being conducted. If this means that the session has to be extended, so be it. In this present case particularly – where a big backlog of bills exists, it would be a particularly wise thing to do to extend the session by at least 2 weeks.

The second change I demand is that the Parliament should not be allowed to be adjourned for more than 2 days at a stretch. For whatever reason, if there is a logjam in Parliament for two continous days, the Parliament has to function for the next 4 days of the week. This must be mandatory and those who don’t agree with this should stay out. The rest of the MPs can continue with the business. This will ensure that at least 2/3rd (4 days out of 6) of the work gets done.

The third change is that Marshals – a specific provision for using them exists – must be used if any party or group of MPs, belonging either to the ruling party or the opposition, stops Parliament from functioning. Currently, there is some sort of a taboo associated with the usage of Marshals. One can imagine thrown-out MPs rushing out of Parliament and straight into TV studios to complain about the murder of democracy. When Parliament is stalled by MPs, is that not murder of democracy?

The BJP is the most irresponsible of all parties. Even before the winter session had commenced, there were news that the party was looking for ways to stall Parliament. It was also aided to some extent by the Left – but to be fair to the Left, theirs is an ideological political struggle. Besides, they never personalized the working of the Parliament by boycotting Chidambaram. When the BJP was ruling at the Center, did it not bring out any Executive decisions without conferring with Parliament? Surjit Bhalla mentioned the same point on TV last night. The Times of India today mentions that the BJP was supportive of a 26% FDI in multi-brand retail till as recently as 2009. In fact, its 2004 election manifesto expressly mentioned this. It fought the last elections on the basis of the 2009 manifesto. It was defeated, right? Then should it not concede the right to rule to the Congress till 2014? Why has it been raising one issue after another – and all at the same time – as if the skies would come crashing down – if they were not discussed in this very session? Why does every discussion have to be followed up with a vote? Why does every party have to seek an adjournment motion – knowing fully well that rather than adjourning the normal business of the house, the motion ends up adjourning the house for the full day itself?

Quite clearly, the opposition won’t let Parliament work. It won’t let the government take Executive decisions. And so as to deflect the nation’s blame, it will attribute the blockade of Parliament to some imaginary government scheme. Apparently, the Congress wants Parliament to stall, because they don’t want to introduce the Lokpal. Wow. Have we totally bid goodbye to logic and sense in politics? Since media doesn’t take a stand against such inane logic, it makes me wonder if media has become a mere mouthpiece of politicians to be used to spread utter nonsense. It is under pressure from Anna that the Standing Committee has been meeting regularly. How many Standing Committees meet this frequently? If the Congress was not interested in bringing out the Lokpal Bill, it could have slowed down the working of the Standing Committee under some excuse or the other. Politicians are masters at delaying things – this should have been an easy task for them.

Maybe Anna should go on a fast today. Not on Dec 11th. If he does that today, he may not need to do it at the end of the session. Maybe the threat of his fast will make politicians conduct themselves better and let Parliament function. But Anna also likes to be coy about the opposition. Not once has he complained that Parliamentarians are stalling Parliament. Not once has he criticized the opposition and small ruling coalition parties for blocking Parliament. Not once did he come out in defence of Justice Santosh Hegde in Karnataka – against whose report the BJP has been steadily chipping away. The State BJP President wants to throw out the institution of the Lok Ayukta itself – and yet Anna did not raise his voice. And then Anna complains that he is considered the BJP’s “mukhota”? If Anna wants the Lokpal bill passed, he must demand that Parliament work first.

As a citizen of this country, I demand that the rules of Parliament be changed to allow it to function. I demand that Parliamentary functioning be made mandatory. I demand that parties which stop Parliament from working be blacklisted for the remaining period of the session. If erring football players can be shown the Yellow card, why can’t an independent referee (maybe the CJI or maybe a newly created Parliamentary ombudsman?) show the erring MPs the yellow card?

The policy logjam is part of the opposition’s strategy. To discredit the government and to snatch the rights to rule the country from the government by these means. Sometimes, they are helped by some members of the ruling coalition also. There is zero concern for the nation. There is zero concern for the problems of the poor. There is zero concern for the economy. All of that concern is to be shown only on TV debates. When it comes to delivering in Parliament, opposition MPs prefer to wring their hands in intentional and strategic purposelessness.

The real truth is that the current winter session needs to be extended by 2 weeks. There will be no loss if MPs stay back in Delhi a little longer. Their constituencies can live without them for that much time. There is also an urgent need for changing the rules of Parliament – ensuring that the working cannot be disrupted beyond a point. And the days that are wasted need to be covered up by extending the session. There cannot be any relenting in this……

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