Monday, April 29, 2013

Washout of Parliamentary session nothing new – its part of a BJP strategy….

The TOI yesterday reported how the present (15th) Lok Sabha could be the “least productive” of all Lok Sabhas since 1952. Only 1157 hours of “sittings” have taken place till date (Sittings is right…..considering that most times, members are standing these days!). This is the lowest figure ever, excluding those houses which didn’t last a full term (but even in those cases, the “per year” achievement was much higher). All this is not an “unfortunate statistic”. It’s my contention that this is a part of “political strategy”, practiced most notably by the BJP.

The BJP has a great incentive to block Parliament. Actually 2 incentives. First major incentive is that hardly any business gets transacted in Parliament. There are more than 100 pending bills in Parliament, but less than 10% of that gets passed in a session. Website says that less than 40 bills have been passed by this Lok Sabha till the monsoon session of last year ( This is the lowest number ever, comparable to 70+ bills passed in the 1st Lok Sabha in 1952. The BJP directly gains if fewer bills are passed. It can go the people and claim that this government “did not function”. It can accuse it of “policy paralysis”. For example, it can claim that the Congress was never keen on passing the Lokpal Bill, when in fact, it is the BJP that never allowed a discussion on it in Parliament, even after the Government accepted most suggestions made by the Parliamentary committee set up for it. Likewise, if the Food Security Bill and the Land Bill are not passed, the BJP can heave a sigh of relief… fact, shout from the roof tops that the Government was inefficient and ineffective. This is a direct incentive to the BJP.

The second major incentive to the BJP is that a blocked Parliament gives the party a chance to “grand stand”. This is what we see happening every day of this current session. Take the “JPC report” issue. The BJP doesn’t like the report because it gives a clean chit to the PM and FM (I agree with the clean chit) and points an accusing finger instead at Vajpayee (I disagree with accusing Vajpayee; based on similar principles). What I cannot understand is why the BJP finds the attack on Vajpayee unacceptable (after all, his government did exercise its right to making policy and “tweaked” the rules to favor a few who were operating in those days), but demands that the PM and FM be held responsible for the same thing (after all, they also chose to exercise their right to make policy – that of cheap spectrum. The corruption was in Raja’s “last mile” execution of the policy). Likewise, the BJP chose to shut down Parliament on the “interference in coal scam investigation” matter even before the Supreme Court (which asked for the affidavit in the first place) has ruled on the subject. If they were so keen on “Parliamentary propriety”, then couldn’t they have waited for the SC view? But no, the second incentive for the BJP is that it gives its spokespeople the opportunity to go to TV studios and make some “principled” (but highly unbelievable) statements. Had Parliament functioned smoothly, why would they have been invited to the TV studios?

In line with the TOI story, also informs that sittings have reduced by 43% in the Lok Sabha since the early days of independence. The monsoon session of 2012 saw 79% of working hours washed away. The winter session of 2011 of course saw the whole session getting lost. What is interesting is that any political issue can disrupt Parliament. The demand for setting up a JPC on 2G cost a full session; and intriguingly, its report submission also did the same thing! The actual debate and voting on FDI in multi-brand retail may take just a few hours, but the stand-off on the issue prior to the voting will still last several days. Even Jayalalitha’s small party can hold all of Parliament to ransom on an issue that really concerns India very less (after all, they the Sri Lankan Tamils are their Tamils, not ours). So don’t fool yourself into thinking that the current reasons for blocking Parliament (2G JPC, coal) are “strong, exceptional reasons”. There is nothing strong or exceptional about them. If it hadn’t been them, it would have been something else.

One key solution to this mess is to stop Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV channels completely. Footage from inside Parliament should not be made available at all. That will stop the grandstanding to a large extent. That will also get it to function, just like Parliamentary Standing Committees function. Imagine this: the standing committees do their job and pass on their suggestions to the government, but amended bills never see the light of the day. What kind of democracy is this????

The other key solution is not a solution really. It’s a desperate plea. To our media owners; to our editors; not to support Parliamentary blockages. They can support any political position or party; but they should not support a blockage of Parliament. Any party that blocks Parliament should be castigated. The correct forum for discussions is Parliament. I hope our TV channels can do this small bit for the country. If they accuse politicians of being self-serving and harming the country, can they please reflect on themselves and ask if they are not doing the same thing at present.

The real truth is that the opposition (mostly the BJP) is responsible for making politics inside Parliament so murky. Well, it’s a trend that it has started. If it gets to rule Parliament ever, the need for spite and retribution will drive the Congress to pay back in the same coin. So forget good governance; what we are in for is a period of great turmoil in the future. This is why S&P and other ratings agencies have down-graded India. The problem goes much beyond 2014….

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