Monday, November 26, 2012

BJP blocks Parliament again, derails democracy….

The BJP (and the Left parties) continued to block Parliament on the 3rd day of the winter session, continuing with its demand for a debate on FDI followed by a vote. This, in spite of it becoming clear in the all-party meet called by the UPA, that the numbers were with the ruling dispensation. The SP, BSP and apparently even the TMC (proves yet again that spite, more than principles, is the credo of Mamata) have cast their lot with the government. Yet for the BJP, the objectives of blocking Parliament are different. It wants to prove that there are divisions within the UPA. A vote may well prove that; but a vote could also prove that the opposition is divided too.

I mentioned a few days back (Nov 20: Why a vote on FDI in multi-brand retail is a wrong idea….) that in a democracy like ours, it is essential that institutions be allowed to fulfill their constitution-mandated roles. It is the job of the Executive to take policy decisions. It is the job of Parliament to enact new laws and amend old ones. Yes, Parliament can take the Executive to task and that is why there are several rules of Parliament which allow MPs to demand a response from the Executive. But it is not for Parliament to question the policies of the Executive. Rule 184 (debate followed by voting) is a tool for the Executive to use to get a sense of the house if it feels the need to do so. Rule 184 is not a tool that opposition can use to censure the Executive as that will lead to anarchy. If the opposition is really worried about where the ruling coalition is taking the country, it can move a no-confidence motion.

Policies are essentially political statements. For the UPA that believes in reforms (since at least Rajiv Gandhi’s times), opening up the country to FDI is kosher. Since it secured the mandate of the people on the back of such policies, it has the backing of the majority of people in the country. These five years belong to the UPA. It can make policies as it believes to be right. If the BJP has a different political viewpoint (which would manifest itself in a different set of policies), it should take this viewpoint to the people in the next elections and win their mandate. If they get it, they would be free for the next five years to write policies as they feel appropriate.

Then there is this bizarre debate going on about whether Pranab Mukherjee meant “consensus” in the literal sense (EVERYONE agrees) or in a more metaphorical way (a MAJORITY agree). Pranab is no green horn; seldom in his four or five decades in Parliament would he have seen any consensus of the type the BJP is now saying he meant. Given the fractured state of Parliament, the divergence in political viewpoints and the tendency to be opportunistic in taking stands, it is impossible to have genuine consensus. That kind of consensus can only come during times of extreme crisis – like when there is an attack on India. Even in such cases, it is theoretically possible that some party may take a more nuanced stance, while generally agreeing with the majority view. Differences in viewpoints/tonalities is what makes our democracy strong. Differences in viewpoints/tonalities is evidence that we allow freedom of speech in our country. Clearly when Pranab made that reference to consensus, he didn’t expect to stitch together 100% support. What Pranab meant was that the government would to do consultations and try to build consensus. The government did reach out to all political parties (through the CMs) and did try to build consensus. Thereafter, it exercised its rights as provided to it in the Constitution. Besides, it gave the final right to the states to decide what they want to do in this matter. How is it fair that a West Bengal, UP or MP should decide the policies for all states?

I can bet that even if the government allows voting, the BJP will find some other excuse to block Parliament. There is the recent problem the party had with the appointment of Sinha as the Chief of the CBI. Supposedly, the Lokpal Act is about to be passed by Parliament and hence the government should have waited. If Parliament is not allowed to function, how will the Act ever be passed? And after the Rajya Sabha passes the Act, won’t the Lok Sabha also have to discuss it first? Given the slate of other bills pending to be discussed and past, can one be sure that the Act will be enacted in this session. If that doesn’t happen, it is very likely to miss the budget session as well. It would then have to be taken up in the monsoon session. For so long, should the CBI remain without a boss? Maybe the BJP is comfortable with this scenario. In Gujarat, the state lived without a Lok Ayukta for so many years too!

The UPA could have allowed voting on FDI. But that would set a bad precedent. Given the nature of politics, every decision of the Executive would be tested through Parliamentary approval. The decision on NCTC – though backed by an amended UAPA immediately in the aftermath of the 2009 Mumbai attacks – was unnecessarily scuttled. The Executive should have just gone ahead with it. The diesel price hike would also be voted upon in Parliament. Given the tendency of our opposition benches to put politics over principles, it is likely that every such Executive decision would create a “crisis”. How then would the government ever function?

The real truth is that the it is the BJP that should be censured for blocking Parliament, not the UPA. The UPA has made efforts to resolve the current logjam. The government cannot be stopped from taking policy decisions. This is almost looking like a conspiracy now. The BJP should bide its time…..and hold its horses….maybe the people will give it another chance to rule the country.

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