Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bring in the Food Security Ordinance….

It’s political season. Almost everything that happens in Delhi today is driven by political considerations. Positions of political parties are based on what they think will help them in 2014; not necessarily on truth or governance. What appears is not what is real….its just a chimera. The BJP’s blocking of Parliament has little to do with the real issues of coal and 2G – that no one wants to discuss; its to do more with stopping the government in its tracks. Stopping it from achieving its agenda. Crippling it before the elections. Leaving it with nothing to crow about when it goes to the people asking for votes. In all this hustle and bustle, the Congress has no option but to play the same game. An ordinance to bring in food security is a must.

Those who argue that the Food Security bill musn’t be passed without adequate discussion in Parliament are being cocky. In reality, they want to block the bill and prevent the Congress from getting an edge. The bill has been around for some time now. It was talked about in the 2009 elections; and was introduced in Parliament in December 2011 – a full 2.5 years before the 15th Lok Sabha’s tenure came to an end. It’s not an afterthought. It’s not like the BJP claims – that the Congress forgot about it and remembered it at the last moment. It’s not as if its merely an election winning ploy – even though it will surely help the party. The Congress believes in the bill, but is being stopped from getting it passed.

The Parliament has gone through the motions. The Parliamentary Standing Committee has vetted it; and suggested changes. The coverage %s for example have been discussed, increased, decreased and finally agreed upon at 2/3rds the population. The impact of this legislation on the fiscal deficit has been debated and understood; its critics have been heard out. The government’s political strategy of “social inclusiveness” drives the Congress’s motivation in pressing ahead. The BJP’s “urban middle class” focus allows it to play hardball. It’s clearly a political battle. And one that the Congress must fight. If the BJP has no shame in blocking Parliament, why should the Congress have shame in getting it through via an ordinance?

Those of us who are internet savvy, read and write blogs, and argue loudly in TV studios cannot even understand what hunger is. For most of this bunch of chatterati, hunger is just a political topic to beat one party or the other with. But in the meanwhile, even as the debates are going on, more and more people are dying of hunger; more and more are suffering from malnutrition. The BJP and congress can slug it out about who is responsible for this plight; and neither will be able to put the other down. But their jousting should not lead to the misery of the poor continuing even more.

Yes, there are flaws in the bill. It proposes to route the foodgrains through the PDS system – which will lead to leakages. But that cannot be the excuse for not doing anything. The Aadhar backing will hopefully help reduce leakages. Maybe we can convert this subsidy into a cash transfer as well at a later date. Yes, the subsidy bill is very high and will put even more burden on the fiscal deficit. But with fuel subsidies being gradually reduced to a small proportion of what it is today (when diesel becomes fully deregulated in a year or so), there will be room created for the food security subsidy.

Like I said, it’s not like everything is hunky dory with the bill. But then the job of Parliament and political parties is to make it stronger. What can one do if our politicians don’t want to meet and discuss. In any case, its not like they haven’t had their chance. They said what they wanted to say in the standing committee. It’s now time to go ahead.

There is one other reason why the Congress must bring in the ordinance. This is a political stand-off in Parliament. If it’s not the PM’s resignation, it is the Law Minister’s or the Railway Minister’s. If it’s not the setting up of the JPC, its its report. If this gets sorted out, it will be something else. The BJP simply won’t let Parliament function. The Congress must fight this BJP strategy politically. It must teach the BJP a lesson. One way to do that is to bring in the ordinance. And when the ordinance comes up in Parliament for ratification in the monsoon session, the BJP will have no option but to support it. Shekhar Gupta argues exactly this point forcefully, while castigating the BJP for blocking Parliament in his brilliant article in The Indian Express last Saturday. This is the right way to handle a recalcitrant BJP.

Besides, it’s not as if the bill’s flaws cannot be corrected in due course. They can be. Just like the rape ordinance was corrected when it came in for endorsement from Parliament. So there is nothing to worry about really.

The real truth is that the Congress has no option but to respond to the BJP politically. It has to achieve its political agenda. It has to bring in the food security ordinance. So what if the opposition says it needs a debate. If they are serious, let them debate it in Parliament. Or they can have their turn when the ordinance comes up for an endorsement in the monsoon session…..

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