Turning away from the House

With winter in Delhi arriving before Diwali this year, it is clear that no one can predict the weather these days, just like its political climate. All eyes are on the coming winter session of Parliament. Murmurs can be heard wondering whether the House will function smoothly. The last winter session was washed away not by storms, but by the 2G spectrum controversy. Two cabinet ministers were compelled to resign. The government understood the wisdom of the opposition's demands only after wasting an entire session of Parliament, and decided to constitute a joint parliamentary committee. This past monsoon session witnessed unprecedented disruption and it was spent on another set of corruption allegations, this time regarding coal block allocations.

Both the Congress and the BJP seemed to enjoy that situation, since they appear to be afraid to discuss the issue within Parliament. They were found discussing various aspects of the alleged scams on TV channels without addressing the root cause. While watching the parties on TV, one wondered why they did not use Parliament for this debate. Why are they not ready to discuss these issues within Parliament? Is it because of the diminishing role of Parliament in one of the world's largest democracies? If so, who is responsible?

In his concluding remarks at the last session of Parliament, the chairman of the Upper House, the vice president, took stock of the session. "Out of 399 starred questions listed, only 11 could be answered orally. The Question Hour could be conducted only once during the 19 days... Four matters of urgent public importance in the form of calling attention were listed but could not be discussed... Altogether, about 62 hours were lost on account of disturbance." Who is responsible for this? Neither alliance can wash its hands off the issue.

Why do the NDA and UPA shun effective debate in Parliament? Is it because both want to save face? The NDA had moved the bill to amend the coal mines act to give a free hand to private parties in coal mining. Both the UPA and the NDA were for the privatisation of natural resources in our country. While we hear stories on the big corruption cases that have rocked the conscience of the reasonable common man who voted for these parties, we should be aware that all of them are related to the privatisation of natural resources, which these parties have vouched for. Spectrum and coal are natural resources, but there is a significant difference between them. Spectrum is not diminished by use, but coal is different. Coal is also essential for the generation of power, which is why there is a need for government control over its mining and distribution. It is the dilution of this line of thinking in order to benefit corporations that paved the way for these controversies.

These days, the news is full of reports of the stunning revelations made by so-called political activist Arvind Kejriwal ostensibly revealing the political hand behind several scams that drained the public exchequer. While this led to discussions nationwide, the darker side of these stories is that the so-called activist himself has targeted the integrity of policy managers while failing to address the root cause of the problem, that is, the adherence to a faulty and defective policy. However, we need to to appreciate that he showed the courage to target the Congress by raising serious allegations against Robert Vadra. It needs to be remembered that the starting point of all these issues are compliance with a faulty policy structure articulated without foresight to satisfy the vested interests of a few to the detriment of the national interest.

The issues raised by Kejriwal, though, need serious consideration, which they haven't got from the Centre. Indeed, the Congress not only ignored his allegations, but even promoted Salman Khurshid by giving him the high-profile external affairs portfolio. This indicates the attitude of the ruling coalition towards corruption.

As for the BJP, it could not use this issue, since it was itself trying to wriggle out of the case against Nitin Gadkari. The veteran BJP leader and member of Parliament Ram Jethmalani questioned the integrity of his own party president and the BJP convened a core committee meeting and to give a clean chit to Gadkari. Ultimately, the supposedly strong opposition lost its will to raise the issue of corruption.

The disclosure on the Krishna Godavari basin allotment by Kejriwal was another turning point. MPs had raised this issue seriously and continuously in Parliament for the last two years. Unfortunately, the media did not give it the attention it deserved. Why was Jaipal Reddy replaced as petroleum minister? The day is not far when the government will be compelled to answer these questions before the House. The cabinet reshuffle seems to reflect the hands of certain corporations in fixing portfolios. But the reality is that nobody is surprised by such sudden changes in the portfolios after the revelations from the Radia tapes threw light on the depth of crony capitalism in the system. In this context, why did the prime minister's office compel the petroleum ministry to reconsider Reliance Industries Limited's request to increase the price of gas, which had previously been rejected by the ministry and group of ministers? Why is the government not ready to charge a fine as per the agreement for the reduction of production of natural gas from the KG Basin?

FDI in multi-brand retail is another area of concern. It could decide the fate of the government. The majority of parties have expressed their objection in public. The CPM submitted a notice for a discussion and a vote on the issue. On this, the government does not seem to have a majority in the House and might itself be washed away in the incoming mighty storm. This necessarily provokes us to raise the issue of whether UPA will allow the House to function and discuss this issue as per procedure. Or, will it follow the same substandard script it had adopted during the discussion of the Lokpal bill in the upper House? If the approach is similar, this winter session will go the same way as last year's.

Nobody can predict what will happen. But legislators and political parties need to remember that the people of the country are cautiously watching them. If Parliament fails to discuss these issues, the relevance of the parliamentary system itself will be questioned. Parliament is the custodian of the Constitution. Thus, Parliament should discuss the issues of the day under the pertinent rules and regulations. All major policy decisions should have the approval and concurrence of the country's highest democratic body. But the major political parties claiming to be the champions of democracy are trying to thwart this constitutional ideal. Unfortunately, this situation cedes space to so-called civil society organisations. It is time for the lawmakers of this country to perform their constitutional obligations, lest furious tycoons may wash away the system itself.

The writer is a CPM MP in Rajya Sabha

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