The political way

This Parliament session will sorely test the UPA's skills in persuading the opposition, and supporting parties

As the Budget session resumes, Parliament is bristling with unresolved issues. The government will have to summon all its powers of persuasion, which haven't so far been conspicuously on display, if it is to pass important bills on pension and reform, not to mention high stakes legislations on land acquisition and food security. Opposition parties have several grouses, beginning with the 2G JPC that, in their view, let the government off too easily, the vetting and amendment of the CBI's report on coal block allocations by the law minister, as reported by this paper, and the shared outrage over cases of rape.

It is entirely legitimate for parties to demand that the government explain itself on the floor of the House for the law minister's conduct if it is found that he tampered with the investigating agency's report. But the opposition may be a little misguided in its exertions to hold government directly or wholly answerable for the problem of rape. Already, bowing to the impatient clamour for instant results, the government has amended criminal law to make it more sweeping in fact, the imperfections of that law may well take a systemic toll in the years to come. The cases of sexual assault that continue to draw national attention and concern underline the complex reality: while it is tempting to blame an authority figure or a specific dispensation, there is no getting away from the acknowledgement that sexual assault is a wider social problem. It can only be addressed by a more dispersed and sustained set of measures.

The UPA is called upon to defend its decisions and enact important financial bills at a point when its strength is seriously diminished. The parties it usually counts on for support are set against it for varying reasons. The DMK, now outside the alliance, is smarting over the methods and conclusions of the 2G JPC. The TMC demands action for the way Mamata Banerjee was heckled outside the Planning Commission. The SP has been calibrating its distance from the government daily. And yet, if it wants any meaningful legislation passed, the government has no choice but to pitch its case to supporting parties, and to the opposition. This is not merely a question of adding up the numbers or negotiating backstage. It will need to reach out to parties invested in the same ends. For instance, though it may disagree on the design, the BJP recognises the necessity of getting the pension and insurance bills passed. In the end, the onus of making Parliament function is squarely on the UPA and there is no other way. Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari's ideas, such as automatically suspending disorderly MPs or deferring the live telecast of parliamentary proceedings, miss the point. Solutions do not lie in procedure and there is no alternative to political engagement.

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