Monday, November 7, 2011

Stalling Parliament new BJP ploy?

I have speculated on this earlier. With the Central government looking keen to introduce the Lokpal Bill – as well as several others – the BJP appears a little uneasy. If the Parliament can actually pass the Lokpal Bill, it will be a big moment for the government. It will hope to enter the UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab elections with more confidence and without Anna’s threat of campaigning against it. Today’s papers mention that the BJP has threatened to disrupt Parliament if…..

If what? The BJP has been looking for an excuse to disrupt Parliament. It appears that the party has found the right excuse. It’s an excuse that appeases the urban middle-class folks and one that shows that the party cares for them. The threat is that if the government does not roll back the petrol price hike, then they could disrupt Parliament (threat issued by Prakash Javdekar, spokesperson of BJP).

No one will be surprised by this really. Any astute political analyst knows that it harms the BJP’s interests if the resolution to the Lokpal conflict happens too early. Ideally, the BJP would like the conflict to go on until late 2013 or even till early 2014 – just before when general elections are scheduled. That would be the best bet for the party to topple the fortunes of the Congress in those elections. The Congress on its part will do everything possible to close the Lokpal chapter now in 2011 or 2012 so that public memory in 2014 is occupied by other issues.

Is this an empty threat or will the BJP carry it through? Is the issue such a big one that the BJP may risk being attacked for disrupting Parliament? The BJP disrupted a full Parliamentary session last in winter of last year demanding the setting up of the JPC to probe the 2G scam. Today, most people are commenting that there is so much duplication of work between the PAC, the JPC, the CBI and other investigating bodies. The BJP demanded the setting up of the JPC only for tactical reasons – wanting to score a point at that time. However, the demand was bound to backfire. The JPC is headed by a Congress MP and has a strong presence of UPA MPs in it (15 out of 30 with many others supporting it from the outside). In contrast, the PAC is headed by a strong BJP MP (Murli Manohar Joshi) and the opposition had a better chance of cornering the government if it had gone with the PAC. If the objective was to hurt the Congress politically, it should never have demanded the formation of the JPC. That should have been the demand of the Congress! Now in all likelihood, the PAC will castigate the government; the JPC will let it off. Then which report will we rely on? Apart from the illogic of this strategy, most people have questioned the need to disrupt a full session of Parliament. Is the BJP willing to risk doing the same again?

I think it will be. Apart form the Lokpal Bill, there are many other bills that are slated to be introduced and passed in Parliament this session. There is the new Citizen’s Right to Grievance Redressal Bill, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, the Whistleblower’s Bill and the Transparency in Public Procurement Bill – all of which will work in tandem with the Lokpal Bill to cleanse corruption. Then there are the new Land Acquisition Bill and the Food Security Bill also which will be strong aam-aadmi oriented moves (though the Land bill may be delayed). And then also, there is the proposed amendment to the Representation of People’s Act – which will attempt to decriminalize politics. Basically, it will make it impossible for even people chargesheeted by the police or the CBI to contest elections (at present, the person has to be convicted by the trial court and the penalty must be more than two years). There are many Bills that the Finance Ministry plans to introduce – like the Indian Stamps Act (amendment) which will allow e-stamping, payment of stamp duties by various ways and importantly, curb the discretion enjoyed by authorities; the Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill; the Insurance laws (Amendment) Bill which will allow for FDI to go up to 49% from the present 26% and the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill (align foreign share holder’s voting rights with their equity holding); the Pension Funds Develop Authority PFRDA Bill (pave the way for social security to millions of employees through efficient intermediation of long-term household savings) and the Microfinance Bill (regulate micro lending companies). There are many other smaller wings also waiting to be introduced. The BJP will surely be happy to block all of these from going through!

If all of these bills are indeed passed, it would at least partially rid the government of the charge of “policy freeze” levied by many against it. If anything is hurting the sentiment of industry and the stock markets at this point in time, it is the lack of policy making. So much was highlighted by a group of prominent industrialists (including Azim Premji and others) who wrote to the PM on this matter. It’s indeed true that the government has been running with its tail between its legs ever since the CWG scam started (brought out in media sometime around July 2010). Thereafter, the Adarsh and 2G scams have ensured that the government remains on the backfoot. Decision making has come to a halt – with bureaucrats preferring to sit on decisions rather than make them.

The impact of this policy freeze has been visible – with industrial growth slowing down; the RBI totally losing control over inflation; and with an overall sense of things not being as good as they were. That’s why this winter session is so crucial for the Congress. The next session will be the budget session and that’s usually a busy session – with the budget in focus. After the budget session are the elections in the five states. It will be too late by then. This is a make or break session for the Congress. And that’s why the BJP will try to stall Parliament…..

The real truth is that we the people must demand that Parliament functions regularly. Any party that causes a shut-down in Parliament must be ticked off. It’s the same in the states also – if any party shuts down the Assembly, it must be ticked off. Politics is fine. But not at the cost of nation-building…..

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