Wednesday, August 14, 2013

VP right about Federation of Anarchists….BJP most guilty

Vice President, and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Hamid Ansari indirectly called the opposition a “Federation of Anarchists”. It’s not like he actually named the opposition, but going by the collective hurt the opposition felt, and their reactions, its clear who the barb was aimed at. Opposition parties are demanding that the “anarchist” word be deleted from the records of the House. Rather than bowing down to this demand, the VP should stay firm. For what he said is dead right.

Opposition benches – who keep reminding us that India is a federation – must truly introspect on what made the VP call them anarchists. They have to admit that they have used the specious federalism argument only to thwart the government’s working. Whether it was to scuttle the formation of the NCTC, or to remove Lok Ayuktas from the the Lokpal Bill, or even to stall the Teesta accord, opposition parties have repeatedly used the bogey of federalism to serve their own narrow interests. Then, it was merely a federation of convenience. Now, as the VP has rightly said, that federation has evolved into something much more sinister.

The same sentiment was expressed by the President, Pranab Mukherjee when he said “Our legislatures look more like combat arenas, rather than fora that legislate… We need a Parliament that debates, discusses and decides.” Can anyone deny this? Should the President also withdraw his statement?

Are Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari wrong? If opposition members analyze their conduct in Parliament, they would be shocked by it themselves. They don’t allow Parliament to function, disrupting it at the smallest opportunity. They refuse to debate issues, preferring to do that in TV studios instead. They don’t allow the government to introduce and pass bills, and instead accuse it of policy paralysis. What’s going on? Is this what democracy has come to? Is this the opposition’s commitment to the people of the country?

We’ve had an entire session of Parliament washed out, thanks to the BJP’s unrelenting demand for a JPC on the CAG’s report on 2G spectrum allocations during Raja’s tenure. Silly it would seem since the JPC would have to be headed by a Congress MP, while the same matter could be debated by the PAC headed by a BJP MP. Wouldn’t the BJP have had more control on proceedings if the PAC was reviewing the CAG’s report, rather than the JPC? It made no sense, except of course that it allowed the party to stall Parliament, and to provide fodder to its spokespeople for their TV debates. Then again, when the JPC was ready with its report, that provided another opportunity for the BJP to stall Parliament. Clearly, its all a pre-meditated strategy to murder democracy.

The problem is that the stalling of Parliament is happening just too often. The TOI carried a story on 2nd May this year (“15th Lok Sabha to be least productive ever”) which showed that just 96 bills had been passed by the House in the first four years of UPA-2. And to prevent going below the lowest point of the past – set by the 14th Lok Sabha –  this House will have to pass another 165 bills in the last year. That’s looking impossible, going by what we have seen in the first ten days of the monsoon session. The article also mentions that its not just the reducing number of bills passed that is a matter of concern; its also the fact that very little time is spent on debates, even on those bills which do get passed. In 2012, the average time was just 30 minutes. The anti-sexual-harassment bill was passed without any discussion.

In both the 14th, and 15th Lok Sabhas, the party behind most disruptions was the BJP. The party has used the specious argument that “running the House is the responsibility of the ruling party”. That was true in the days when a single party had a majority. In today’s fractured Houses, that responsibility has to be shared by all; most of all, by the principal opposition party.

Just look at the bills pending and it becomes clear exactly how deleterious the effects of such disruptions are: Food Security, Land Acquisition, Judicial Accountability, Lokpal, so many financial bills….the list is endless. Notice also how the government is unable to amend the Insurance bill to increase FDI to 49% - only because it has to go through Parliament –  while it is able to show much more policy activism when decisions have to be taken by the Executive. If this continues, we will soon have a situation when governments will keep all laws “light”, carrying the specifics in the “rules” instead, so that they don’t have to go back to Parliament for updates. As it is, the official number of sittings days of the Lok Sabha is just 75 in a year. Compare this with 130 that the US House of Representatives sits for. And the 143 days the House of Commons in the UK sat for during 2012-13.

When Hamid Ansari used Marshalls to evict some members in the Rajya Sabha during discussions on the Women’s Reservation bill, the BJP opposed the move, calling it “strong arm” tactics: “Do not bring marshals in the Lok Sabha. Do not lower the dignity of the house," said Gopinath Munde, BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha. This is nice. Don’t allow the House to function, and also don’t allow the Speaker/Chairman to use Marshalls. Only the  Congress supported the use of Marshalls: "Another day wasted in Parliament. It hasn't used Institution of Marshals in Parliament since 2004 to make it function. High time they did " tweeted Digvijay Singh in 2011.

The real truth is that the President and Vice President are right in what they said. The chief culprit is the BJP. The party has to learn how to behave in Parliament. It needs to demonstrate its respect for democracy. The BJP shouldn’t forget that when its time comes to run the country, it wouldn’t want the Congress to pay them back in the same coin….

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